In Rehoboth, questions linger for Sandcastle Motel project

Should site-plan review have been required; future discussion set on code changes to clarify process
July 1, 2022

Story Location:
Sandcastle Motel
3 North Second Street
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
United States

Rehoboth Beach staff were able to explain why the contractor for the Sandcastle Motel was given special permission to demolish a large portion of the structure in the middle of the city’s annual moratorium on demolition. However, that wasn’t the case for those same staff members when commissioners questioned why the multimillion-dollar renovation wasn’t sent to the planning commission for site-plan review, despite appearing to meet a number of requirements that should have triggered one.

The issue was discussed at a June 28 special meeting, added to the agenda after a section of the building facing Rehoboth Avenue was demolished. 

Interim City Manager Evan Miller said building inspector Matt Janis met on site June 13 with representatives from the contractor, who showed recent renovation work that revealed the building’s infrastructure was failing. Miller said Janis determined the demolition was needed, and while the contractor got a second building permit, they were not required to get a demolition permit.

The metal beams holding up the structure were about to fail, said Miller.

Sitting at the table in front of the commissioners, Janis confirmed his reasoning for allowing the demolition. Additionally, he said, he had reviewed similar cases from the past and it’s what had been done.

Mayor Stan Mills pointed to a section of code allowing the emergency demolition of structures during the annual moratorium. Pointing to other sections of the same code, Mills said there are issues with the demolition permitting process, and there will be a discussion on the subject in the future.

Ultimately, commissioners said they would have appreciated more notice about the demolition, but they generally accepted Janis’ explanation for the emergency nature of the approval.

With that specific issue resolved, Commissioners Susan Gay and Jay Lagree asked Janis why the renovation project as a whole hadn’t been sent to the planning commission for a site-plan review.

Janis said after examining the submitted building plans, he determined the site-plan review wasn’t required. 

Gay referenced the section of city code that has a list of requirements triggering the site-plan review process. She highlighted the sentence that said the development or redevelopment of a parcel of land, or adjacent parcel of land, in excess of 20,000 square feet. Janis confirmed the parcel was larger than 20,000 square feet.

Lagree said he was disappointed by Janis’ decision to not go through the site-plan review process. It’s a problem that it wasn’t carried further, he said.

David Mellen, former planning commission chair, agreed with Gay and Lagree. Even if the planning commission decided a site-plan review wasn’t needed, it still increases the level of transparency, he said.

Following the meeting, the city declined to allow Janis to explain why he didn’t think the renovation project fit the criteria requiring a site-plan review.

In an email June 29, Lynne Coan, city spokesperson, said the city wasn’t going to comment beyond what was stated at the meeting.

“We don’t feel that it would be appropriate to comment at this time, especially in light of the fact that commissioners will be meeting in the future to discuss the site-plan review process,” said Coan.

In a follow-up to that response, the city was asked if it would explain the thinking behind the decision that's spurring the future meeting.

The city continued to declined to comment.

“When the plans were reviewed, it was determined that the project did not fulfill any of the requirements for a site-plan review,” said Janis.


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