The BeachWalk appeal before the Rehoboth Beach commissioners is expected to draw a large crowd - so large that some who attend will be seated in other rooms to watch the hearing on television.
The hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m., Friday, Jan. 26, in the city commissioners’ room, which accommodates 80 people. Once the room fills, audience members will be ushered to other rooms where they can watch the meeting on TV screens. Commissioner Stan Mills said the main area for the overflow crowd would be the caucus room adjacent to the commissioners’ room.
Mills, as vice mayor, will preside over the hearing because Mayor Paul Kuhns has recused himself due to a previous relationship with BeachWalk attorney Dennis Schrader.
The commissioners will first hear testimony from those who submitted oral or written testimony during planning commission public meetings. Those wishing to speak were required to notify city secretary Ann Womack by Jan. 22. No other public testimony will be taken at the Jan. 26 meeting, which could also feature an executive session by the commissioners for legal advice.
Mills said those who will speak will be limited to 10 minutes, and they cannot present testimony that is different from what they presented at prior planning commission meetings. The commissioners could change the time allotted for speakers, Mills said. From there, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas, representing the planning commission, and Schrader will each have 30 minutes to summarize their arguments before the commissioners deliberate, Mills said. He said he does not know if the commissioners will take a vote on the appeal the day of the meeting.
Meanwhile, attorneys for both sides submitted final written arguments prior to the hearing on Jan. 19.
BeachWalk submitted plans to develop 7.75 acres known as Rehoboth Beach Plaza, or Bay Mart, shopping center as 58 single-family homes and five apartment-style units. The proposal quickly became controversial, as BeachWalk submitted plans as a condominium, with all the units on a single, undivided parcel. The city planning commission, conducting a site-plan review of the project, viewed BeachWalk as a major subdivision, and asked BeachWalk to submit plans that comply with subdivision regulations.
Schrader says the planning commission exceeded its authority in an attempt to subject BeachWalk to subdivision standards. He said in May 2016, the board of adjustment ruled the plan is not subject to subdivision requirements for the purposes of the zoning code. Schrader said the board has the final say on interpretation of the zoning code, but the planning commission disregarded the board’s decision and attempted to force BeachWalk into filing as a subdivision. When BeachWalk developer Keith Monigle refused, the commission denied the application through inaction, Schrader said.
In his written argument to the commissioners, Schrader said the planning commission proceedings were a half-baked attempt to relitigate the board of adjustment decision. He said no one from the city filed an appeal against the board’s decision.
Schrader said the city’s delays in not bringing BeachWalk to a full public hearing were arbitrary and capricious, as was requiring BeachWalk to submit a subdivision plan. Schrader is asking the city commissioners to approve BeachWalk’s site plan as is or remand the matter to the planning commission with instructions to review the plan as a condominium.
Mandalas said that subjecting condominium projects to subdivision review is not absurd or uncommon, as other states, including Alabama, California, New Jersey and Washington, view condominiums as separate pieces of real estate.
Mandalas said a condominium is a form of ownership and that once houses are sold, they become separate pieces of real estate, like a subdivision. He said the city’s site-plan review ordinance gives the planning commission broad authority, and that Schrader overstates the relevancy of the board of adjustment decision. Mandalas said the board’s ruling did not decide that BeachWalk complied with city code, but rather that the developer could build more than one building on a lot.
Mandalas, whose role as solicitor will be taken by Dewey Beach Town Solicitor Fred Townsend for the Jan. 26 hearing, asked the commissioners to uphold the planning commission’s decision to take no further action unless a project is submitted that complies with major subdivision standards.