Rehoboth Beach commissioners are considering a delay on construction of a new beach patrol facility and comfort station on Baltimore Avenue.
The latest hiccup comes following a report issued by the planning commission that lists deficiencies in the amount of information available to the public regarding the proposed legal abandonment of a portion of Baltimore Avenue, which is needed for the new, larger building.
Demolition of the existing one-story structure was supposed to begin soon after the city’s annual moratorium on demolitions ended Sept. 15. However, concerned citizens questioned if the city was ignoring the city charter by not holding a public hearing on the abandonment of the easternmost portion of Baltimore Avenue.
There were questions if a public hearing was needed, but one was scheduled anyway Sept. 29. The day before the public hearing date, the city issued a statement saying it was notified it also was not following state code, and that the planning commission needed to evaluate the proposed abandonment and issue a report in advance of the public hearing.
The planning commission did so, discussing the issue at length twice before issuing a report Nov. 3. The commissioners tasked the planning commission with listing the good and the bad of the proposed abandonment. Instead, the report listed all of the information members would’ve liked to have had to make an informed decision.
The 13-page report emphasizes that the city needs to make sure all property owners on the two blocks of Baltimore Avenue are aware of the project. It also says the city needs to: use larger, more legible drawings of the proposed abandonment; include visible depictions of precise property boundaries; explain why the abandonment is needed for the new structure; and address how the abandonment will impact infrastructure in the immediate area. Lastly, the report suggests that the city consider putting the new building in a specific zoning designation.
During a commissioner workshop Nov. 6, Interim City Manager Evan Miller said he and staff began evaluating the planning commission’s report as soon as it was finalized and the desired information would be included with the packet of information when the city published the agenda for a commissioner meeting Friday, Nov. 17.
Mayor Stan Mills laid out his preferred path forward: See what staff can prepare in advance of the meeting; evaluate the information and move forward with the public hearing; and then consider the adoption of a resolution to abandon the section of Baltimore Avenue needed for the project. However, he said if the commissioners aren’t satisfied with the report, they don’t have to move forward with a public hearing.
Commissioner Toni Sharp said she has an uneasy feeling about moving forward with the project. She said it feels like a very, very heavy lift that could end in disaster, adding later in the discussion that she’s concerned the city has already passed a critical date.
Commissioner Tim Bennett aired frustration about the commissioners learning of the abandonment of the street at the last minute. He said he didn’t know anything about it, then asked if the other commissioners did. They all answered no or shook their heads no.
He asked if the city needs to start again and do it correctly. Bennett also asked about the city being fined by the contractor for delays.
During the Sept. 29 meeting, former City Manager Laurence Christian said the city could be fined up to $1,000 per day if the project did not start on time.
During the Nov. 6 workshop, Miller said Christian misspoke and it was the other way around – the city could fine the contractor $1,000 per day for not completing the project on time. The city won’t see the additional costs now; that will come at the end when materials cost more, he said.
Michael Strange, a resident and member of the planning commission, spoke as a member of the public and encouraged the city to delay the project before it’s too late. There has not been enough research into the structure to make sure it will fit in safely with the surrounding existing structures, he said.
Using the bridge spanning Indian River Inlet as an example, he said sometimes projects get all the appropriate approvals, but then other factors aren’t taken into consideration and those projects still fail. Prior to the existing bridge being built, another bridge was well into construction when the edges of the bridge approaches began to collapse, and the whole project had to be scrapped in favor of a new design.
Ultimately, Mills got commissioners to agree to wait on any decisions until staff has time to prepare information for the Nov. 17 meeting.
A few days later, Nov. 9, the city published an agenda for the meeting, which included Mills’ preferred course of action and what appears to be most, if not all, of the information the planning commission recommended be available.