For nearly 10 months, Rehoboth Beach Auto Repair owners Richard and Stephanie Marsch have been waiting to find out if the city will grant their request to rezone a property next to their Route 1 repair shop from C3 to C1.
With a public hearing and possible vote scheduled, it appeared the Marsches were going to get an answer during a city commissioner meeting June 16. However, following the last-minute submission of a petition with signatures from abutting neighbors opposing the proposed rezoning, the public hearing was postponed.
The proposed rezoning first went before commissioners in September 2022. The property in question, 20663 Coastal Highway, is an old farmhouse between the repair shop and Scarborough Avenue Extended. It’s currently used as office space, but a change in zoning would allow for the construction of another repair bay. Following a brief discussion, commissioners sent it to the planning commission for a recommendation, which was ultimately deferred because there were too many questions.
Soon after, and in response to the original submission, two of the three residential properties on Scarborough Avenue Extended with rear property lines abutting the Marsch property – 1028A and 1028B – requested a rezoning from C3 to R1. City commissioners are willing to entertain the requests, but it requires going through the state’s Preliminary Land Use Service review because the Scarborough Avenue Extended properties are zoned commercial on the city’s future land-use map. The state signed off on the map changes during a meeting in March.
At the request of the city, the Marsches delayed pursuing an answer to their request until any possible changes to the future land-use map were made. Soon after state approval, city commissioners set public hearings for all three issues – changing the future land-use map, two requests from Scarborough Avenue Extended property owners and the Rehoboth Auto Repair request.
During the June 16 meeting, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of changing the map and making the neighboring properties residential. There were some questions related to why someone would want to go from C3 to R1 because it’s a more restrictive zoning district, but ultimately commissioners agreed they are already residential and will likely be residential well into the future.
Commissioner Toni Sharp said the residential use of each property has already been established and it’s good for the neighborhood.
With the first two issues resolved in fairly short order, the commissioners took up the original request from the Marsches. The beginning of the hearing went as expected.
Carlton Savage of Scale Engineering spoke on behalf of the Marsches. He listed the differences in allowed uses between C3 and C1. The biggest difference is the allowance of an auto repair shop, he said, adding the Marsches just want to add one more service bay.
The town needs service stations and this extra bay will allow Rehoboth Auto to continue to meet the demand, said Savage.
Those speaking all said the Marsches were good people, running a respectable business, but they also cited having a repair bay just feet from their backyard, noises, chemicals and smells as why they aren’t in favor of the proposed rezoning.
Then Scarborough Avenue Extended resident Jim Lisehora got up and handed signed copies of a petition against the rezoning. He also cited a section of city code that says three-fourths of the commissioners must vote in favor of the proposed change for it to pass if a protest against a change is signed by at least 20% of owners within 100 feet of the proposed change. In the case of Rehoboth Beach, that means six of seven commissioners must vote in favor of the proposed change.
The submission of the petition threw a wrench in the process. After a brief sidebar with City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas, Mayor Stan Mills recommended the public hearing be postponed to a later date to confirm the authenticity of the petition and to be fair to the Marsches.
The expectation is that the hearing will resume during a commissioner meeting in July. After the meeting was over, none of the city commissioners could recall a time when this section of code had been used.