A proposed dock for kayaks, canoes and other non-motorized watercraft at the Grande at Canal Pointe just outside Rehoboth Beach has residents who live along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal taking sides.
CP Townhomes LLC (Canal Pointe RPC) has filed to amend condition 15 included in the approval of change of zone 1538 dating back to 2004.
The applicant is requesting the condition be removed that states: “No piers, docks, boat ramps or other water-related recreational facilities shall be permitted.”
During the hearing, concerns about eagles, precedents and the environment surfaced.
Canal Pointe, located along Hebron Road in West Rehoboth, includes 288 single-family homes, and 307 condominiums and townhomes on a 181-acre parcel bordering the canal.
Members of Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission heard both sides of the issue during an April 22 public hearing. At the end of the hearing, commissioners voted to defer for further consideration. Sussex County Council has scheduled a public hearing on the application at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 15, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.
No motorized craft allowed
Representing the applicant, Canal Pointe Maintenance Corporation Vice President Kent Larson said the community was moving forward with the dock project and obtained permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. He said that was before they were made aware of the condition prohibiting dock structures along the canal. The permits expired at the end of 2020 before a public hearing could be scheduled.
Larson said the community is requesting one dock/pier to launch kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, and provide a place to fish.
“This is our first step to begin the process again,” he said. “We are starting from ground zero.”
Access to the proposed dock would be through Canal Park at the northern end of the community. The park includes a sidewalk and mulch path, picnic table and parking. No lots in Canal Pointe have canal access. Larson added that Canal Park plans were also approved by the agencies, which sent representatives for site visits.
Larson said no motorized craft would be permitted to use the dock, and there would be no vehicle access through the park to the canal. “We need safer access which will preserve the canal bank,” he said.
Melissa Donnelly, president of the Canal Point Maintenance Corporation, said the community has great respect for the environment and neighboring communities.
“We are dedicated to working with all interested stakeholders to create enjoyment for our community that will not adversely impact neighboring communities,” she said.
She said residents have been launching kayaks, canoes and paddleboards from the park along the muddy shore of the canal.
Henlopen Acres officials oppose change
Ten residents who live in Henlopen Acres across the canal have hired an attorney to represent them in their opposition to the proposal, and the Town of Henlopen Acres has gone on record against removing the condition.
However, Mayor Joni Reich wrote if the planning and zoning commission and county council support the change, a narrow exception authorizing a small dock suitable for launching kayaks could be allowed while leaving the condition in place to preclude other water-related recreational facilities from being built. “We believe that if any relief is granted (and we do not think it should be), such narrow relief is the only option to preserve and protect the sensitive wetlands area that surrounds the proposed dock site and the valuable wildlife habitat in the area, which includes an eagle nesting area,” she wrote.
“This might be an appropriate compromise,” said Commission Chairman Bob Wheatley.
Attorney Mackenzie Peet, representing homeowners who live on Tidewaters across from Canal Pointe, said the condition is in place to preserve and protect the environment as well as neighboring property owners.
“This is a request of convenience and not necessity,” she said. “If approved, there is a safety concern in this narrow area of the canal. This is a terrible location for a recreation area or dock.”
She said there are no other community docks in the area. “Private docks are much different than community docks. No private docks have hundreds of people using them,” she said.
“This sets a precedent for other communities. It's a slippery slope,” Peet said.
She said her clients are worried storage units would eventually be built.
“This activity will continue if we approve this or not,” said Commissioner Holly Wingate.
Commissioner Bruce Mears said allowing access via a dock instead of launching from the shoreline would be better for the environment.
Assistant county attorney Vince Robertson reminded the commission that the applicant would have to file a revised master plan and site plan. If approved, the site plan would be subject to review of the planning and zoning commission.
Resident says eagles will leave
Mark Clark, who lives across the canal in Henlopen Acres, said since the development of Canal Park, he has noticed the disappearance of blue herons, egrets, red foxes, deer and red-winged blackbirds. “But now we have a picnic area. And there is a bald eagle nest in the wetlands next to this. You need to consider this,” he said.
Clark said with 288 people using the area to kayak, canoe and paddleboard, the eagles will leave the area.
Canal Pointe resident Rex Donnelly disputed his comments. “I see lots of deer and fox, and I hear the red-winged blackbirds. There has been no destruction of habitat because of the park and there is no destruction of wetlands. No one is going to kayak in the wetlands,” he said.
He said across the canal, homeowners have long piers over wetlands to gain access to the water. “We are not asking for that at all,” Donnelly said.
“This is a public canal to be enjoyed by all and not enjoyed by people on just one side,” said Canal Pointe resident Lynn Dubin.
She pointed out that Henlopen Acres residents have access to a marina not far from the proposed site of the kayak launch.
Majority support removing condition
Of 288 single-family homeowners, 180 submitted votes, with 163 in support of removing the condition and 17 opposed.
Robertson asked if the 307 members of the Canal Pointe Condominium Association, a separate homeowners association within the community, were polled. “They are all part of the residential planned community, and the condition affects the entire RPC,” he said.
A vote of condominium owners was not taken because the management corporation owns the park land, Donnelly said.
Larson said condominium and townhome owners have access to the park.