The developers of the proposed Belhaven Hotel in Rehoboth Beach have received word that a request to change the flood map for their Rehoboth Avenue and Boardwalk property has been approved.
The change paves the way for an underground parking garage at the hotel, which has an address of 2 Rehoboth Ave.
First introduced in April 2019, the Belhaven Hotel project is being brought forward by the father-and-son team of John and Alex Papajohn. Seen from above, the property is shaped like a Tetris piece, with boundary lines that face the Boardwalk, Rehoboth Avenue and Wilmington Avenue. The property wraps around a square piece of land that faces the Boardwalk and Wilmington Avenue. That parcel is owned by the Trahos family, who are cousins to the Papajohns.
If the project gets built, this would be the second time the Papajohn family has owned and operated a Belhaven Hotel at this property. John’s dad and his mother’s two brothers opened the family operation near the Boardwalk in 1938; the Storm of ‘62 destroyed the old Belhaven.
A section of the northeast portion of the Papajohn property – the area of Candy Kitchen – had been in a VE zone of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps. According to FEMA, buildings in this zone are at a higher risk of flooding than other buildings, and underground parking is not allowed when residential space is above; hotel rooms are considered residential space. The Papajohns submitted a Letter of Map Revision in 2020 to change the VE designation.
Mayor Stan Mills received a letter July 26 from Rick Sacbibit, branch chief of the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration’s engineering services branch, that said a revision was justified.
“Using the information submitted, we have determined that a revision of the flood hazards depicted in the National Flood Insurance Program map is warranted,” said Sacbibit. According to the letter, the new flood zone designation is AO, and the effective date of the revision is Dec. 13, 2021.
A public notice announcing the change to the flood map, and seeking public comment, was published in the Aug. 6 edition of the Cape Gazette; it says there is a 90-day appeal period that goes into effect after the notice is published a second time. The notice was scheduled to run again in the Friday, Aug. 13 edition of the Gazette.
In an interview Aug. 10, Alex said he, his father and the design team were excited about getting the flood map revised.
“It gives us greater flexibility in case we decide to put in underground parking,” said Papajohn, adding that current plans do still include underground parking.
Papajohn said it’s his understanding that the change to the flood maps has been made and that the 90-day window provides an opportunity for someone to prove it should return to its original designation.
Second underground parking hurdle cleared
This is the second hurdle the Belhaven project has cleared related to underground parking.
The new Belhaven was introduced with an underground parking garage. However, at the time, underground parking garages counted against the floor-to-area ratio, a calculation used to determine how much off-street parking a structure has to have, and a variance would have been required to not have it counted.
A little more than a year later, in June 2020, the Belhaven team went back before the planning commission with code-compliant plans that had a parking garage at Boardwalk level. No one, including members of the planning commission, wanted that to be the memory pedestrians had of a stroll down the Boardwalk.
A variance request never came because city commissioners approved a change to city code that defined underground parking and then excluded areas meeting that definition from the parking calculation in the commercial districts. That change to code was made in April, in response to the board of adjustment granting similar variance requests for other projects.
Revisions have been made to the hotel design
Although they’re not yet ready for public review, Alex said new plans for the Belhaven include some substantial revisions made since they were last discussed in a public setting. He said plans now include satellite parking on Baltimore Avenue for the structure, which allows for even more design flexibility to the hotel, such as a larger lobby and retail space on Wilmington Avenue.
City code allows for up to 50 percent of required parking to be provided on a separate lot or facility so long as the separate lot is under the same ownership and within 700 feet of the main entrance to the primary property.
The satellite parking facility in question would be located in an undeveloped lot between the Admiral Hotel and Lord Baltimore Lodge. According to property records found on the Sussex County website, John Papajohn purchased the 100-by-100-foot lot in November 2020 for $3.25 million.
Alex said he’s been listening to the city task force meetings on beautifying the streetscape of Baltimore and Wilmington avenues. He said a satellite parking facility will allow for mixed use on Wilmington, instead of parking as last discussed.
“We want to be good corporate citizens, and nobody wants a parking lot on Wilmington, coming off the Boardwalk,” said Alex. “We want our project to dovetail nicely into what Wilmington Avenue offers.”
Looking forward, Alex said new plans have been submitted to the city for review, and he’s hoping they can be back on the planning commission agenda as soon as September, but no later than October.