With a month to spare before a state-mandated deadline, Rehoboth Beach commissioners unanimously approved the city’s 2020 comprehensive development plan during a special meeting and public hearing June 28.
This is very exciting, said Mayor Stan Mills, after the 330-page document was approved.
“The CDP not only meets the minimum requirements for a CDP, but it exceeds them greatly,” said Mills. “It’s a good resource.”
Rehoboth was required by the state to finish the document by the end of July. The planning commission began the CDP-writing process in late 2018, with an eye toward finishing in July 2020. There were a number of issues with meeting that deadline – primarily, planning commission turnover and the pandemic – so the city received two year-long extensions from the state. No more extensions would have been given; instead, penalties related to state funding could have been used to encourage completion.
Former Planning Commission Chair David Mellen, who was the chair when the process started, was the only member of the public to speak at the public hearing. The zoning map is old and has not been updated as it should be, he said.
It’s questionable what the state does with the CDP, but they do care about the zoning map, said Mellen.
City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas agreed with Mellen and added that updating the map is an action item in the new plan. It’s overdue and will be done, he said.
There was little discussion among the commissioners following the hearing.
Commissioner Tim Bennett wanted to know when the five-year review and the 10-year rewrite would take place because it’s called the 2020 CDP, but it’s being finished in 2022.
Lauren Good, project manager from the city’s contractor Wallace Montgomery, said the city can try and keep the same schedule – review in 2025 with rewrite in 2030 – but the state will say review in 2027 and rewrite in 2032.
Among the last things added to the CDP was wording on how to interpret the plan that reads, “Because of the importance of this comprehensive plan as a planning guide, and because of the sometimes difficult task of interpreting and harmonizing the various goals and objectives of a comprehensive plan, this comprehensive development plan has been crafted to carefully identify those items in the plan that the city is legally bound to pursue because of the plan’s force of law. All other items not specifically directing affirmative and mandatory action by the city are expressly intended to be optional and of an aspirational nature.” This wording is on the third page of the document.
The wording was added June 7 during the last meeting on the document before the public hearing June 28. At the time, Mandalas said the CDP is a guiding document, but that he’s also seen them used against municipalities.
As an example, Mandalas used the recent decision of the city’s board of adjustment to grant a variance of the floor-to-area ratio of 3 for the proposed Belhaven project on the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and the Boardwalk. The city’s codified floor-to-area ratio, which among other things helps determine the number of required parking spaces, is 2.
Mandalas said the Belhaven developers argued the city’s 2010 comprehensive development plan has goals for Wilmington Avenue, but commissioners didn’t change zoning code to meet those goals. The board agreed and granted the variance. The board’s decision has been challenged in court by Francis “Bunky” Markert, who is set to be sworn in as city commissioner after being one of two candidates for two commissioner seats in this year’s municipal election.
“In that case, I think the CDP was used, and is going to be used against us in the litigation that’s ongoing,” said Mandalas. “This language, hopefully, is something that a lawyer can point to whenever this city has litigation brought against it saying, ‘There’s one little sentence that says this and the city didn’t do it, so I get my approval.’”
Mandalas said he’ll point to this section and argue there are mandated goals and aspirational goals. This tiny half a sentence that’s being pointed at is not one of the mandatory goals the city has established, he said.
Now that the city has formally adopted the plan, it will go back to the state for final review and approval. Following the state review, the document becomes official after Gov. John Carney signs it.