Applauding Rehoboth’s site-plan review process
On Friday, Aug. 12, the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission will begin the site plan review process for a proposed residential development at the Ocean Bay Mart shopping center, a commercially zoned site on Route 1 nestled between Scarborough Avenue Extended, Silver Lane and Terrace Road. The developer, Ocean Bay Mart LLC, is proposing 63 residences for the seven-plus-acre property, most single-family units with five to six bedrooms, each with its own bathroom.
The property serves as a gateway to the city from the south and, if done well, could make a positive statement about Rehoboth and the character of its residential communities.Unfortunately, the proposed community is the antithesis of what the city has said it values in its neighborhoods. In the Bay Mart plan, large 35-foot residences – mini-hotels - are densely packed with almost no natural area; there are two-foot-wide cart paths instead of streets, no sidewalks and little off-street parking.
How can a community like this be developed in the City of Rehoboth in 2016?
The Bay Mart developer’s hope is that he will make an end run around the city’s zoning code. By maintaining the entire 7.7-acre parcel as one commercially zoned lot, he hopes to avoid any restrictions that would normally apply to residential subdivisions and single-family houses in the city.
On Aug. 12, the developer will face the city’s planning commission and the site-plan review – a process that was put in place in 2009 to ensure in-depth review of any large project that has the potential to have a “significant impact on the community.” This process is a tool created for the planning commission to help achieve a number of goals, including protecting the character and scale of a neighborhood, preserving natural resources and, above all else, protecting the public’s safety and general welfare.
The site plan review calls for the planning commission to ensure the developer’s proposal is consistent with Rehoboth’s Comprehensive Development Plan, a document that affirms the city’s vision and its commitment to areas of key importance, including its residential neighborhoods. More specifically, the review will examine the proposed project’s impact in a number of areas, including traffic flow, both on and off site; pedestrian movement; fire equipment and emergency access; open space areas; and integration with scale and character of the surrounding neighborhood.
This will not be an easy job. The Bay Mart developer will continue to uphold his claim that the property is a single commercially zoned lot, is being developed as a condominium, and is exempt from the various ordinances that the city has put in place for residences.
Nonetheless, I’m hopeful that Bay Mart will not be allowed to proceed under the zoning radar and circumvent the city’s neighborhood goals. The site plan review process provides the mandate by which the planning commission can ensure an appropriate balance between a developer’s desire for growth and the needs of the community as a whole. With their guidance, Bay Mart can become the high quality and attractive residential community for which Rehoboth has come to be known and has struggled so hard to protect and maintain. For this the citizens of Rehoboth should be grateful.