Dewey Beach commissioners declined a request to approve applications for a new Grotto Pizza without referral to the planning and zoning commission, and instead moved to expedite the process to help meet Grotto’s goal to open by spring.
In making his case before council Aug. 19, Grotto attorney Stephen Spence said the restaurant would not have live entertainment, a stage, stand-up service of alcohol or outside seating areas. It will be an outstanding addition to the town, he said.
The current Grotto on Coastal Highway, just across Read Avenue from the proposed new location, will be demolished and redeveloped as a mixed-use property, Spence said.
The building occupying the proposed location will also be demolished, with a new building erected in its place, Spence said. His clients hope to open the new restaurant by spring 2023, and he requested commissioners approve the applications immediately, without referral to planning and zoning, a process that could take several months.
The project is not complex or unusual, does not affect the comprehensive plan, and is not a significant change in land use, Spence said. Town Building Official Daune Hinks said restaurant plans are code-compliant.
Town Counsel Fred Townsend said commissioners could choose not to refer the application to planners, but that would be, in his view, essentially killing the application. Town code makes it clear that commissioners could approve the application if they unanimously agree the change to an existing conditional use is deemed to be insignificant.
“This is an entirely new restaurant on a different property than it currently exists,” Townsend said. “I’m not aware of any precedent for concluding that you have the authority to approve that without sending it to the planning commission.”
Spence referenced a section of town code, which he said he interpreted as building a restaurant in the business district is not significant. The conditional-use process is driven by the establishment’s impact on the community, its size and shape, parking requirements, alcohol and seating arrangements, he said; in other words, provisions to ensure it doesn’t turn into a bar, which is not Grotto’s intent.
Commissioner Gary Persinger said the conditional-use approval process gives the public adequate opportunity to express their thoughts during hearings. Mayor Bill Stevens said that because the restaurant is not a new business in town, but is just moving across the street, it is not a significant infringement on the rights of others. The public has been duly notified, he said.
During public comment, former Commissioner David Moskowitz said he was told by the town the application would be referred to planning and zoning, which recommends conditions, he said.
The current location keeps its conditions, Moskowitz said, noting that commissioners could expedite the process by advertising both planning and zoning and town commissioner hearings simultaneously.
Persinger said he was willing to expedite the process, but setting a new precedent was not justified. Conditions could be imposed as a result of the planning commission or the public’s comments. It benefits the town to follow procedure, he said.
A related application to rezone 106 Read Ave., the current Grotto parking lot, from business to residential was also referred to the planning and zoning commission.
Spence submitted the zoning change application on behalf of property owners Jeffrey and Lily Gosnear, who purchased the property from Grotto; a home may be constructed on the site, he said.
The planning and zoning commission will hold public meetings on Grotto’s application and the rezoning of 106 Read Ave. at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Lifesaving Station, 1 Dagsworthy Ave. For a full agenda or to watch the meeting virtually, go to townofdeweybeach.com.