About 15 months after the Rehoboth Beach Board of Adjustment approved a 50% increase to the floor-to-area ratio, the proposed Belhaven Hotel is set to undertake a site-plan review by the planning commission in April.
Planning commission Chair Michael Bryan announced the review would begin at the Friday, April 14 meeting.
The hotel was first introduced in 2019 by father-and-son owners John and Alex Papajohn. The project has an address of 2 Rehoboth Ave., but the property fronts the Boardwalk to the south property line of Grotto Pizza, encompasses all the Rehoboth Avenue commercial space west to the property line with Go Fish, and stretches south to Wilmington Avenue.
In November 2021, the board of adjustment approved a variance request allowing the hotel to have a floor-to-area ratio of 3, instead of the code-mandated 2. The board’s decision was challenged in court by resident Francis ‘Bunky’ Markert, who is now a city commissioner, but Delaware Superior Court Judge Craig Karsnitz ruled the board of adjustment did not err when it approved the variance request.
In November 2022, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said Belhaven developers had submitted plans based upon the variance they obtained; those plans are being reviewed by the building and licensing department. After that review, he said, the plans will go before the planning commission.
John Papajohn appeared at the planning commission meeting in February to see when the planning commission was going to schedule a site-plan review. Bryan made his announcement during the following meeting.
According to documents included with the meeting agenda, the Belhaven team had not submitted all the required documents to complete the review. To be considered for review, the city requires applicants to submit documents at least 30 days before. Bryan said no new documents would be accepted for the April meeting after March 15.
In an email a few days after the meeting, Alex Papajohn said he’s confident the team will have all the required information submitted in a timely manner.
Lynne Coan, city spokesperson, said architectural drawings and site-plan drawings from the civil engineer were received March 15. It is possible the planning commission will request additional documents and it’s likely the review will require additional meetings, she said.
Unscheduled executive session held
Prior to announcing a site-plan review, Bryan asked fellow commissioners how they would like to proceed because not all the documents had been received at the time of the meeting.
Commissioners Michael Strange and Jim Ellison said a full set of plans was critical to prepare for the review. Additionally, two owners of property that directly abuts the proposed hotel – Michael Trahos, who owns the building with Gus & Gus and Zogg’s Raw Bar, and Alison Blyth, who owns Go Fish! – said they would also like a full set of plans to review in advance of the meeting.
Following a brief discussion about the allowance of documents after the deadline, and at the recommendation of planning commission attorney Luke Mette, commissioners went into executive session without giving a reason. An hour later, the meeting resumed and Bryan announced the review would be taking place in April.
When asked why the executive session was needed, Coan said the commission received legal advice and opinion from Mette regarding potential litigation. She cited a section of code, 29 Del. C. Section 10004(b)(4), which reads, “Strategy sessions, including those involving legal advice or opinion from an attorney-at-law, with respect to collective bargaining or pending or potential litigation, but only when an open meeting would have an adverse effect on the bargaining or litigation position of the public body.”
The city declined to explain how continuing discussion during the meeting would have had an adverse effect. The city believes that the standards described in the code were met, said Coan.
However, Alex said his family has not threatened the city with a lawsuit.
“On the contrary, we continue to work with the City of Rehoboth Beach in order to bring to fruition a signature hotel development that will make the entire community proud,” he said.
Hotel parking changes
Prior to deciding on the Belhaven issue, the planning commission formalized its recommendations to city commissioners related to hotel parking.
Currently, hotels, motels and inns are only required to provide one parking space per hotel room. As proposed, those businesses would be required to provide 1.2 spaces for each room; and 1 space for every 250 square feet of gross floor area devoted to meeting, conference, banquet, event or similar communal space; 1 space for every 250 square feet of gross floor area devoted to office space.
Coan said the proposed changes have been forwarded to commissioners. There’s a commissioner meeting scheduled for Friday, March 17, and while the recommendations are included as part of the planning commission report, the item is not on the agenda for discussion.
Coan said the city doesn’t yet know if it will try to implement the new parking requirements on the four hotels that have already been brought forward – Belhaven; the Grotto Pizza hotel that runs along the Boardwalk from Rehoboth Avenue to Baltimore Avenue; the Atlantic Crowne immediately west of the Atlantic Sands on Baltimore Avenue; the already-in-a-lawsuit hotel that was introduced as Rehoboth Grand and sits the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and State Road.
This is still in recommendation form, and commissioners will need to discuss and consider, she said.