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New construction requirements likely in Rehoboth

Changes to administrative variances, residential sprinklers and stormwater practices
November 12, 2019

Story Location:
Rehoboth Beach City Hall
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19958
United States

If, as currently presented, Rehoboth approves three building-related topics scheduled for a commissioner meeting Nov. 15, residential property owners could soon be allowed to pursue minor administrative variances, but they’d also have to incorporate stormwater management practices during new construction and include sprinkler systems in new-house designs.

During a meeting Oct. 18, Rehoboth Beach commissioners set a public hearing on an ordinance creating administrative variances for the upcoming meeting.

According to the draft ordinance on the city’s legislative portal, if approved, the building inspector could administratively grant a building setback variance, side yard variance, or rear yard variance that does not exceed 1 foot. There is a $50 application fee. 

Under the ordinance, the building inspector would send written notice of the administrative variance application to adjacent property owners and accept written comments for 10 working days from the date of mailing. If any adjacent property owner objects to the administrative variance, the building inspector would refer the application to the board of adjustment, and the administrative variance application fee would be credited to the board of adjustment application fee, which is $1,000.

During a commissioner workshop Oct. 7, Commissioner Susan Gay said she would like to see the ordinance tailored to have specific variances allowed instead of the blanket size of one foot. She said Sussex County also has a variance of 1 foot, but the lots and setbacks in the county are much larger than in Rehoboth. She said the only county lots similar in size to Rehoboth lots are for mobile homes, and the county doesn’t allow variances in those situations.

Mayor Paul Kuhns said the point of the variance is to allow for instances when an older house is built right to setbacks, but new siding would put that house an inch into the setbacks. He also said the variance would allow for new HVAC units to be installed. 

Sprinklers for new residential construction

Rehoboth Building Inspector Damalier Molina has for months asked commissioners to adopt the 2018 International Building Code. Currently the city’s building officials use the 2012 version of the code book.

Molina was not at the recent commissioner workshop, but City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the most significant change in the 2018 code would be requiring sprinkler systems in new residential construction. He said it was recommended in the 2012 version, but the city chose to remove that requirement. However, he continued, Molina is asking the city to adopt the 2018 version and require sprinkler systems.

Matt Janis, city assistant building inspector, said the cost of residential sprinkler systems for the million-dollar homes being constructed Rehoboth is a drop in the bucket. He estimated a system costs $6,000–$12,000.

To be fair to property owners with plans already submitted or about to be submitted, Commissioner Ed Chrzanowski said the ordinance should be implemented in six months to one year.

Stormwater management practices

Spurred by unsightly runoff from residential construction sites and its unknown environmental effects, the city has introduced an ordinance requiring silt fencing, stabilized construction entrances and stormwater inlet protection devices for any construction activity disturbing more than 2,500 square feet of land area.

Projects that disturb more than 5,000 square feet are already subject to stormwater management plans approved by the Sussex County Conservation District.

City Manager Sharon Lynn described the ordinance as a protection measure for properties near construction sites.

Mandalas said Public Works Director Kevin Williams said, as written, the ordinance would catch 90 percent of the problem. Mandalas said the ordinance could always be made more restrictive in the future.

Sallie Forman, founder of Save Our Lakes Alliance 3, said the ordinance was necessary and strongly recommended the city expand its reach. It’s taken 10 years to get this far; it’s worth the time to add more, she said.

Gay and Commissioner Richard Byrne said this proposal was long overdue.