Commissioners should deny BeachWalk appeal
On Friday, Jan. 26, the Rehoboth Beach city commissioners will hear an appeal filed by the developer of BeachWalk, a residential development proposed for the Ocean Bay Mart property on the southern edge of the city. This appeal challenges a unanimous decision made by the city's planning commission that the proposed project is a subdivision and, as such, should abide by established processes and standards for residential communities.
Why should the board of commissioners uphold the planning commission decision?
The BeachWalk developer claims the project will be developed as a condominium and, as such, is exempt from city standards that govern residential communities. This assertion is inconsistent with Delaware Code regarding condominiums, which states that condominiums are only a form of ownership, and do not apply to land use. In short, BeachWalk must be subject to all local zoning and subdivision laws.
This attempted end-run around city codes would allow the developer to squeeze 58 single-family houses - nearly 90 percent five- and six-bedroom/bath units - and five multi-family townhouse units onto a 7.7-acre property. The proposed community has no formal streets, only narrow, 20-foot, two-way "drive aisles" that must serve vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle traffic. There are no allowances for on-street parking nor are there sidewalks for pedestrian traffic. BeachWalk will also be twice as dense, in terms of the number of dwellings per acre, as the surrounding neighborhood. Additionally, the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of its homes will be nearly three times that of homes in the adjacent community.
Opponents of BeachWalk contend that what "smells like a duck and looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...is a duck." That is, BeachWalk is a subdivision, and should be legally held to the residential standards that we all know and respect - specific requirements for density, open space, sidewalks, ample accommodations for parking, etc.
Appropriately, the Rehoboth Planning Commission has agreed with this point of view, unanimously concluding that the developer should submit an application for a major subdivision and be held to the same high standards for residential development as any other responsible builder.
City commissioners should uphold this position and unanimously reject the BeachWalk appeal. Failure to do so allows the developer to intentionally subvert the city's zoning laws, and lays the foundation for future developers to adopt a similar strategy. Ultimately, any group of parcels in the city could potentially be redeveloped in the same way without adhering to safety and other zoning standards imposed on other city residences.
Please come to the commissioners meeting Jan. 26 at 9 a.m. and demonstrate your support for the safety and character of Rehoboth's residential communities.