The Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission is ready to weigh in on a proposal to redevelop Rehoboth Beach Plaza shopping center into a 63-unit residential community.
The commission will meet at 3 p.m., Friday, Aug. 12, in Rehoboth fire hall, to begin deliberations on the application of Ocean Bay Mart LLC to build a new development known as Beach Walk. The 7.75-acre parcel, zoned C-2 commercial and known as Bay Mart, is one of the largest remaining properties in the city.
Chairman David Mellen said the first meeting would focus mainly on preliminary matters, and Ocean Bay Mart attorney Dennis Schrader would be allowed to provide a Powerpoint presentation of the project that would display drawings for the public.
Following that, Mellen said the meeting will proceed with a report by building inspector Dam Molina and a full presentation by Schrader. Representatives of the fire, wastewater and water departments will also comment, Mellen said. The commission will then begin its review and also take public testimony.
Mellen said he is not sure how long the review will take, but he anticipates the process will play out over numerous meetings.
Ocean Bay Mart plans to shut off public access to the property at the Route 1 traffic signal that currently serves the shopping center. Instead, the project proposes access from Terrace Road. Mellen said Ocean Bay Mart owns an alleyway that runs from the property to Terrace Road, which, as designed, would provide primary access in and out of the new development.
Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, said, “It makes no sense to me to take away the main entrance at the traffic light. I’ve never run up against anything that misguided. I will fight that. You want to develop the land, develop the land. The people that are going to live there need to have a controlled access point onto that roadway. It’s the most misguided plan I’ve ever seen.”
Residents who live along Terrace Road opposed the project at a May board of adjustment meeting because of traffic and density concerns. However, the board limited its decision to whether Ocean Bay Mart could have more than one building on the lot.
Mellen indicated the entrance and egress would be a major issue of discussion, pointing out that Terrace Road becomes a one-way street after it passes the Bay Mart property.
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said, “It’s going to have a big impact. It’s private property, but it’s private property that is going to have a significant public impact. I kind of have mixed feelings on the project, which is why I really hope there is more conversation on it.”
Schrader said he did not wish to comment prior to the Aug. 12 hearing.
One issue that could hamstring the commission is that the project is proposed as a condo development; the property is not being subdivided. Instead, Ocean Bay Mart plans 63 units, which include 58 single-family homes and five multifamily units, on one parcel. Building inspector Dam Molina attempted to prevent Ocean Bay Mart from doing this by invoking a footnote from the R-1(S) residential district - a zoning classification used exclusively for large lots in the Pines area of town - that states no more than one building can be built on a lot. Schrader argued successfully that the code was ambiguous and poorly defined, so his client should be allowed to build more than one unit on the lot.
The city’s site-plan review ordinance allows the planning commission to have a say in large-scale developments that are not major subdivisions. The ordinance allows the commission a great deal of leeway because its main charge is protecting the health, safety and welfare of the city.
However, Mellen said, because the project is a condominium, city regulations more stringent than state code may not apply. The main access road to the units as proposed by Ocean Bay Mart is a 20-foot cartway, similar to a golf cart path and only about half the standard 40-foot-wide street required by city code in major subdivisions.
Mellen said whatever the commission does, it will be to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.
“It’s a big project,” Mellen said. “We’ll see where it goes.”