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BeachWalk subject to subdivision laws

January 19, 2018

As Rehoboth Beach property owners for 25 years and city residents for five years, we have followed with interest numerous local development proposals that raised significant land-use planning issues. However, we have never seen a development proposal that so significantly threatened the quality of life of city residents as the proposed BeachWalk project.

BeachWalk contends that its proposed condominium development is not required to comply with the city's subdivision regulations.

BeachWalk's position, however, is clearly contrary to the Delaware Uniform Common Ownership Interest Act, which explicitly recognizes that condominium developments are subject to local land-use requirements, including the subdivision process. Its position also ignores critically important land-use and public policy goals that are achieved by compliance with applicable subdivision regulations.

Specifically, subsection 81-1O1(c) of DUCOIA states that an "approved common interest community" (a condominium) is one that "has received all legally required zoning and/or subdivision approvals from the applicable government authorities." Subsections 81-106(c) further provides that the statute's provisions do not invalidate any otherwise applicable local real estate laws, including zoning and subdivision requirements.

It is beyond dispute, therefore, that DUCOIA establishes that Delaware condominium projects are subject to local subdivision requirements.
Delaware courts have not expressly addressed whether local subdivision requirements apply to proposed condominium developments within the state. In such circumstances, courts consider the policies adopted by other jurisdictions as generally relevant.

For example, Maryland courts have held that local subdivision regulations are intended to serve important public policy goals such as providing for the harmonious development of the entire district; providing adequate open spaces for traffic, recreation, light and air; coordinating roads within a subdivision with other existing, planned or platted roads; coordinating pedestrian ways within the subdivision and with adjacent subdivisions; conserving or producing adequate water, drainage and sanitary facilities; and protecting surrounding developments as well as the environment from adverse impacts of the proposed subdivision.

Here, the proposed BeachWalk project, as shown on a site plan filed with the city, achieves none of these policy goals. It consists of 63 high-density, four- to six-bedroom homes located on fewer than eight acres. Of those homes, 58 are jammed together on non-regulation size lots, with no access to a primary or even a secondary road, without adequate pedestrian ways, with "drive-aisles" that cannot easily accommodate fire and other safety vehicles, and with significantly adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and natural environment. No wonder the BeachWalk developers have refused to file a subdivision application.

Their project as currently proposed does not remotely meet the public safety and general welfare policies that underlie the subdivision process. The public interest of future residents of BeachWalk, as well as surrounding communities and the city itself, demands that these critical land-use issues be addressed with a subdivision application. Policy considerations as well as DUCOIA clearly require the city commissioners to uphold the planning commission's decision that the proposed BeachWalk development is subject to the city's subdivision regulations.

Julie Davis and John Metz
Rehoboth Beach

 

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