In what Town Counsel Fred Townsend called an almost perfunctory stage of the application process, Dewey Beach commissioners voted unanimously Oct. 21 to refer to the planning and zoning commission a proposed expansion of an existing conditional use for planned restaurant Starboard Claw.
“Today’s process is merely involving referral of it to the planning commission for a more in-depth look into the application,” Townsend said.
Attorney Glenn Mandalas said his client Steve “Monty” Montgomery of Starboard Claw wants to transform the current Hammerheads location into a new seafood restaurant and to do so, requests the expansion of Hammerheads’ conditional use onto the adjoining property at 26 Bellevue St.
The proposed use is appropriate, Mandalas said, because the area is surrounded by commercial properties and is consistent with the 2018 comprehensive development plan.
Plans call for a two-story restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining on each floor, for a total of 204 seats and a patron area of 3,694 square feet, he said; 32 of the 204 seats will be dedicated bar top seating.
Steve Robins, who participated in public comment via Zoom, said he supports the proposed restaurant but that some issues need to be addressed, including a fence or buffering between the restaurant and adjoining residential property.
“I have no doubt that Mr. Montgomery and his team will be good neighbors as this goes through the planning commission,” Robins said.
Some issues need to be discussed, Mayor Bill Stevens said, and the larger issue is parking. Stevens suggested, as a parallel path, that a complete review of the town’s parking requirements by planners would ensure rules are up-to-date and ensure public safety.
Town code requires restaurants with patron space of more than 2,000 square feet to provide one parking space for every 200 square feet of patron space; under this requirement, Starboard Claw would need to provide 19 off-street parking spaces.
Starboard Claw’s application requests a waiver of 17 parking spaces, stating the area would be better served by providing two off-street parking spaces and room for bicycle and scooter parking.
Commissioner David Jasinski motioned to refer the site plan and application to the planning commission with the provision that any deviations from parking requirement require board of adjustment approval or exception. The site plan submitted should include the proposed parking plan, he said.
Townsend said he and Mandalas would discuss parking requirements in the coming days; the applicant may or may not choose to advance the request for relief from the parking requirement.
“I don't think we need to make the referral to the planning commission contingent upon some legal conclusion regarding this group’s authority to grant a waiver from parking,” Townsend said.
Jasinski said he would strike that portion from his motion; Commissioner Gary Persinger said he would have seconded the motion if the provision was included.
“I think I have a harder line view,” Persinger said, stating that commissioners need to approve a site plan that complies with town code before sending it to the planning commission.
Persinger said he would be uncomfortable approving a site plan that doesn’t meet parking requirements. The board of adjustment can grant waivers, exceptions or variances to town code, he said, not town council.
Townsend said it would still be appropriate to send the application to planners, so Jasinski modified his motion to include that the referral to planners does not constitute approval of the site plan.
Persinger said he was not trying to oppose the application, but he would like to add to the motion that the pending matter is determining which forum is appropriate for advancing a request for relief from parking requirements.
Commissioner Paul Bauer said the applicant could create 19 parking spaces by using the first floor as parking. The second and third floors could be the restaurant and the building would still be under the 35-foot height limit. Planners can say whether or not parking is required, Bauer said.
“I think you all know how I feel about parking,” Bauer said. “It was a great idea at the time, but most people take Ubers in and out, and frankly I'd rather people buy parking passes and permits to come into town.”
Commissioner Elisabeth Gibbings said, “That’s a horrifying image you just painted.”
Bauer said he agreed, but if the applicant has to provide that many parking spaces, they wouldn’t have space for a kitchen, and the proposed restaurant would essentially become a bar.
Persinger agreed the site plan and application could go to planners and that Townsend and Mandalas would have the opportunity to discuss options and determine the appropriate body - either the planning commission or board of adjustment - to decide the parking requirement issue.
The Dewey Beach planning and zoning commission will hold a public hearing and meeting on the application at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Lifesaving Station, 1 Dagsworthy Ave. A Zoom link to the meeting is available at townofdeweybeach.com.