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Rehoboth residents oppose BeachWalk

Planners to determine if development is a subdivision
August 16, 2016

The weather may have been hot outside, but the seats were even hotter for representatives of the proposed BeachWalk development, as neighbors and members of the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission roasted them over the design and impact of a planned 63-unit condominium development.

Owner Ocean Bay Mart is seeking to redevelop Rehoboth Beach Plaza shopping center as a 63-unit condominium development. The plan includes 58 single-family units and five multifamily units, with each unit having five to six bedrooms and five to six bathrooms. The development, to be known as BeachWalk, would be private, served by two 20-foot-wide cart paths, although it would use city water, sewer, fire, police and trash services. The 7.75-acre property is zoned C-1 commercial.

While they agree the neglected shopping center needs attention, opponents say the developer’s proposal to cut off access to the property from the Route 1 traffic signal is unsafe and the proposed number of units is too high.

Under the proposal, access to the property would be from Terrace Road. Motorists seeking to reach BeachWalk would have to make a U-turn on Route 1 and then an immediate right turn off Route 1 onto  Terrace Road. The most critical opponents of the project are residents of Terrace Road and nearby Scarborough Avenue Extended.

At the planning commission’s Aug. 12 meeting, Pam Cranston of Terrace Road said the units are nothing more than mini-hotels designed for the rental market.

“You can call BeachWalk the biggest hotel in Sussex County,” Cranston said. “This rental ghetto is completely out of place and completely out of character for the city of Rehoboth Beach.”

“It represents pure greed,” former city commissioner and Scarborough Avenue Extended resident Mabel Granke said. “This is a classic example of how to plan a modern slum.”

A letter to the planning commission signed by 17 Scarborough Avenue Extended residents said, “The proposed site plan for the BeachWalk community suggests a development of enormous, tightly packed houses with narrow setbacks, narrow streets and minimal parking on site. These factors raise significant public health and safety concerns that we believe must be fully addressed.”

A letter from Terrace Road residents Carol and Jim Tello said, “The proposed development is a subdivision.  It looks like a subdivision, it functions as a subdivision, and, most importantly, it is a subdivision under the applicable legal definition.  The fact that the dwelling units will be owned under the condominium form of ownership is irrelevant.”

It wasn’t just neighboring homeowners who spoke out.

Rehoboth fire Chief Chatham Marsch questioned removing the Route 1 entrance, saying the light can be controlled to give fire trucks faster access. Marsch said the company’s large ladder truck has a 51- foot turning radius, making it extremely difficult to make a U-turn on Route 1 in the best of conditions, much less with busy summer traffic.

He said 20-foot cart paths are very narrow for the ladder truck to get through, especially if cars park along the street. Marsch said the fire company brought these concerns to Ocean Bay Mart but they have been ignored.

“You’re going to cause more accidents on that roadway than there already are,” he said.

Police Chief Keith Banks also criticized plans to access the property and the lack of sidewalks on the proposed plan. He said there were also questions about police access to the property, because it will be under private ownership.

When asked by Commissioner Harvey Shulman why the Route 1 entrance is to be eliminated, engineer Carlton Savage said it was to prevent drivers from cutting through the development to get to Terrace Road, a remark that was greeted by boos and catcalls from the audience.

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” said Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach.

Later, speaking as part of the public comment portion, Schwarzkopf said, “It makes no sense and hearing why it’s being done makes even less sense. This is the dumbest design I’ve seen. It makes no sense.”

He said his main objection was the access from Route 1, and he objected to an assertion by Ocean Bay Mart’s engineers that Delaware Department of Transportation was considering removing the signal.

“I can tell you, that light is not disappearing,” Schwartzkopf said. He then criticized Ocean Bay Mart for wanting to use the signal to get construction vehicles in and out of the property and then take it away once people start living there.

“This has nothing to do with cutting through traffic and everything to do with putting in another house or two. Terrace Road is not a road that should be expanded at all,” Schwartzkopf said.

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said, “The applicant this evening prepared one of the weakest plans for a proposal that I have seen at any level of government.”

While the community was able to voice its concerns, the meeting was a frustrating affair for Ocean Bay Mart attorney Dennis Schrader, who decried the fact that he did not get to present his case at all. Ocean Bay Mart provided a brief overview of the project at the beginning of the four-and-a-half-hour meeting but did not give a formal presentation. Ocean Bay Mart’s engineers said the plans were approved by the state’s Preliminary Land Use Service, although the planners pointed out the city had no input in the project.

Whether Schrader will get the chance to make his presentation is still up in the air. The meeting was a preliminary review, intended to evaluate the project and ask the applicant for more information. However, the planners wrestled with the question of whether the Bay Mart application constituted a subdivision. Shulman introduced a motion calling for Schrader, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas and any affected parties to submit legal briefs on the question of whether the Beach Walk project is a subdivision, with the first briefs due by Friday, Sept. 9. Responses would be due by Friday, Sept. 23. The commission will resume discussion and rule on a path going forward at its Friday, Oct. 14 meeting.

If Bay Mart is ruled a subdivision, Bay Mart would have to comply with the city’s major subdivision laws, which regulate the size of streets, mandate sidewalks and have setback requirements. Classification as a major subdivision, as opposed to a condominium, would reduce the number of homes that could be placed on the property.