Public comment largely in favor of Belhaven Hotel in Rehoboth

Planning commissioners, applicant still at odds over required loading berths
June 11, 2024

Comments were largely in favor of the proposed Belhaven Hotel at a June 7 public hearing conducted by the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission.

The 92-room hotel was first introduced in April 2019 by multi-generational property owners John Papajohn and his son Alex. The hotel has an address of 2 Rehoboth Ave., but the project site stretches the width of the block south to Wilmington Avenue and also fronts the Boardwalk. The structure would be four stories, with the hotel occupying the top three and retail on the ground level. The entrance to the hotel is planned for Wilmington Avenue; the main hotel lobby would be on the second floor.

Resident Rick Perry said approval of the site plan is long overdue.

Another resident said she’s happy to see that some of the existing businesses appear to be a part of the plans moving forward. Most people come to Rehoboth for the day and there’s an expectation that they’re going to be able to get candy and ice cream on the Boardwalk.

Rehoboth Avenue business owner Katie Sarver said it’s important for the city to redevelop and move forward. Rehoboth is a known travel destination and this project will only enhance that.

Robin Hood Restaurant owner Kosta Tsoukalas said the existing conditions of the block need to be upgraded and this project would do that. The first block of Rehoboth Avenue is not great, he said.

Ice Cream Store owner Chip Hearn said the project is worth it, even though it will mean his business is shut down for an extended period of time. He said it will be a great space.

Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce President Carol Everhart and Southern Delaware Tourism Executive Director Scott Thomas said they support the project.

Comments weren’t all in favor.

Dr. Michael Trahos, a cousin to the Papajohns who owns the Gus & Gus building that will be surrounded by the hotel, said while he’s not against the project, he has many concerns about how the hotel’s foundation will be installed because there have been no reports or studies conducted.

Everybody knows the hotel will be soundly built and will not flood, but what about the surrounding buildings? he asked.

Go Fish owner Alison Blyth said she has similar concerns. She said she consulted her own engineer and was told there’s no way the vibrating from all the construction work won’t affect her building. She said she’s very, very wary that the developers are going to work with her in the future.

Two residents said they have concerns about building such a large hotel with underground parking near the ocean.

Loading berths

The applicants and the planning commission are still at odds over the number of loading berths required for the project. 

Attorney Richard Forsten, representing the Papajohns, continues to argue that city code is clear that because none of the individual retail spaces is larger than 15,000 square feet, only one loading dock is needed for the hotel. However, he said, those retail establishments will be able to use the loading dock, which is better than the existing conditions, because they don’t have one at all now.

Planning Commissioner Julie Davis said there’s more than 26,000 square feet of retail space in total and there are additional things to consider, such as the impact of the structure on the neighborhood.

Forsten also pointed to the building inspector’s report that says the project only needs one loading berth.

Planning Commissioner Susan Gay said the inspector’s report isn’t approved, adding there will be one building permit issued for the construction of the hotel. She also pointed out that one of the retail spaces right next to the existing loading dock is almost the same exact size as a loading dock.

At the end of the discussion, the planning commission and the applicant agreed to resume the hearing during the commission’s meeting set for Friday, July 12.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct first name of the applicant’s attorney.

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