The Dewey Beach Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend changes to parking requirements Dec. 18 after one member recused himself from the public hearing and meeting.
Before the hearing, planner Jimmy O’Conor said he was advised to recuse himself due to a possible conflict of interest because he owns a restaurant.
“I don't agree with it, but I will recuse myself from participating in the meeting and participating in the vote,” O’Conor said, bidding members to have a good day as he exited.
Most discussion involved amending code to allow restaurants in the RB-2 district with less than 4,000 square feet of patron space to have no off-street parking requirements. Restaurants with more than 4,000 square feet of patron space would provide one parking space for each 200 square feet of patron area.
Assistant Town Manager Jim Dedes said town commissioners suggested 4,000 square feet as a threshold; planners may make any recommendation and can review other districts at another time.
The possible change is not geared toward Starboard Claw, although there is a connection, Dedes said, noting it would impact other restaurants as well. Starboard Claw has requested an exemption from off-street parking requirements; the Dewey Beach Board of Adjustment will hear the matter Tuesday, Jan. 11.
Planner Dale Cooke said neighboring towns have public parking lots or hundreds of spaces, but Dewey does not. He said it would have been best to have the board of adjustment address the matter.
“It’s unfair to compare to [other towns],” Cooke said. “It's unfair, my personal opinion and without a lot of knowledge, to not address all business districts and only address one. I think we’re setting the town up for lawsuits.”
Chair Mike Harmer said counsel advised him that all procedures were followed properly leading up to the meeting.
Planner Mark Nordquist said the only required parking spaces should be for the handicapped. Dewey is a walking town, he said, and parking lots are more of a hazard than a help.
Harmer said relief from parking requirements would allow the town to attract new restaurants.
“I agree with the parking lot issue, that it might attract things you might not want going on,” Harmer said, adding most people walk, use the Jolly Trolley or rideshare to town.
Two letters from the public were read into the record. Carol Everhart, president and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, asked that planners recommend restaurants with 4,000 square feet or less of patron space need not provide parking. Former Commissioner David Moskowitz said the change would hurt small businesses.
Resident Gary Karp spoke via Zoom to oppose changing requirements and said the town should evaluate an overall mobility strategy, not just parking.
Starboard Claw attorney Glenn Mandalas said his client was probably the impetus for considering the ordinance. Mandalas said he filed with BOA to seek relief from the parking requirements, but thought a code amendment would be a more holistic way to address the issue.
“I think it's the reason the restaurant scene in Dewey Beach has not kept pace with some of the towns to your north and to your south,” he said. “Dewey Beach has a lot to offer, to be certain, but as far as restaurant options at the higher end, it’s lagging behind other beach towns, and I think it’s because of the off-street parking requirements.”
The proposed ordinance would allow Starboard Claw to carry out its planned use, Mandalas said. Parking lots do create safety issues, he added, and a parking shortage in Dewey has not increased over the past year and a half when parking lots have been converted to outdoor dining.
Attorney Steve Spence, who said he represents several Dewey businesses including Grotto Pizza and Highway One Limited Partnership, spoke in favor of exempting parking requirements for businesses with up to 5,000 square feet of patron space. Most people use the Grotto Pizza parking lot to park when they go to the beach, he said.
“They don't actually park there to come to Grotto,” Spence said. “They come there because it's a free parking space. That has historically been the case for us at both the Ivy location and Northbeach until we started to regulate them. People would just show up there, park their cars and go to the beach, and not use them for the purpose of using our facilities.”
Nordquist motioned to use 5,000 square feet as the threshold before parking requirements kick in; planner David Lyons seconded for discussion. Cooke said he was against 5,000 square feet but did want to lower the requirement.
“I think I've been persuaded by the fact that in the last year and a half I've watched almost no parking spaces exist, and there was no hue and cry by the public that they were upset, but I think it needs to be done in all the districts,” Cooke said.
Lyons said 4,000 square feet would be good relief, and the threshold could always be raised. Cooke said he would agree to 4,000 square feet; Nordquist amended his motion to 4,000 square feet, which passed unanimously.
The other public hearing was held to provide consistency in wording regarding parking requirements as stated in Table 2 of the zoning code and in town code. Dedes said the conflict in wording dealt with parking spaces required based on the number of bedrooms in a home.
Table 2 stated that two off-street spaces are required for the first four bedrooms in a dwelling unit, plus one additional space for each additional two bedrooms in the same dwelling. Code stated that two parking spaces are required for the first three bedrooms plus one more space per additional bedroom.
Planners voted unanimously to recommend town commissioners amend code to be consistent with Table 2.
Commissioners’ next meeting is Friday, Jan. 21; a public hearing is scheduled on an ordinance to raise the square-footage threshold for providing off-street parking from 2,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet of patron area for restaurants located in the RB-2 district.