Land trust stays the course in West Rehoboth

Demand for housing in resort community drives huge increase in land prices
November 14, 2023

The West Rehoboth Community Land Trust is in the midst of its annual fundraiser. And as land prices in the community continue to rise, the need is even greater than in previous years.

Among the missions of the land trust is to revitalize West Rehoboth, and secure property and provide housing to keep residents in the community or bring back residents who have left.

The land trust has been able to provide four rental properties and two first-time buyers houses. It has recently purchased a lot for $100,000 and is working with Habitat for Humanity to construct a house.

The demand for building lots in Rehoboth Beach is high, as more and more new homes are being built with fewer lots available. West Rehoboth, with lots available, has become a developers’ and speculators’ dream. Lots are selling for $300,000, said director Eleanor Marchtmon, who lives in West Rehoboth. Commercial development along Hebron Road is also taking place.

“We can't compete with what lots are going for,” she said. “Rehoboth has changed so much.”

Longtime Treasurer Jim Blakeslee said the land trust has been able to raise substantial funding through grants from foundations (it was a $100,000 Longwood Foundation grant that started the land trust) and banks through the years.

With the leadership of the late Beth Doty, the land trust was able to raise $200,000 from 2009 to 2011.

The land trust is partnering with Sussex County Community Development and Housing to provide emergency repairs.

“We were concerned as we saw the community deteriorating. There were drug issues, and land speculators were buying properties. That's why the land trust was formed,” Marchtmon said. That was back in 2003.

In 2009, the land trust, along with West Side New Beginnings, commissioned a revitalization plan. The plan offered a detailed look at existing conditions, and a path forward to improve the neighborhood and seek out sources for funding.

“Building up the neighborhood with safe, clean and attractive rehabilitation and new development is the core of the plan. The plan is designed to improve the quality of life for all residents, businesses and visitors, and to achieve a positive reputation and new respect for West Rehoboth,” the plan states.

The plan included things to be discouraged, including unplanned, out-of-scale mutlifamily housing, multiple uses on the same lot, overly large or tall buildings, overcrowding and windowless commercial structures.

The West Side New Beginnings Community Center was set as the center of the neighborhood. “It should be enlarged and remodeled to enhance and expand its community value, with new social and educational programs and an adjacent playground and park,” the plan states. 

The study concluded that new street lights should be added, sidewalks installed, dead and dying trees should be removed with new trees planted, and more utilities put underground in an effort to restore the community's identity.

Sussex County Councilman Mark Schaeffer, a land trust member, said at times it's been an uphill struggle, but the land trust remains true to its mission to improve the lives of West Rehoboth residents by providing decent, affordable housing.

Two large housing projects – Sea Coast Court and Park Shore – have been constructed at both entrances to the community. Revelation Craft Brewery has a location in West Rehoboth that also includes food trucks. Several other businesses have also opened in West Rehoboth over the past few years. The Developing Artist Collaboration has a DIY store adjacent to the West Rehoboth Legacy Wall.

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