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Rehoboth to review calculation of gross floor area

Kuhns: Code is ambiguous, should be addressed
October 14, 2019

Story Location:
Rehoboth City Hall
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

Twice in as many months, the Rehoboth Beach Board of Adjustment upheld City Building Inspector Damalier Molina’s interpretation of city code that outside areas of commercial structures must be counted in calculations of gross floor area and floor-to-area ratio.

Complicating Molena’s decision, it was revealed during a September board meeting, is that those same standards haven’t been applied to residential structures because Molina focuses on commercial buildings, while Assistant Building Instructor Matthew Janis, trained under a previous building instructor, focuses on residential buildings.

While it sounds like a technicality, counting outside areas can significantly affect the overall size of commercial buildings as well as parking requirements.

During a commissioner workshop Oct. 7, Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns said he would like to address the differences by amending the code so the requirements are clear. He said he respects the decision by the board and Molina’s interpretation but there have been unintended consequences.

In August, the board of adjustment agreed with Molina that an external staircase and deck with railings to the second floor of the building at 240 Rehoboth Ave. increased the building’s gross floor area, which triggered an additional parking space.

Then during its September meeting, the board agreed with Molina that the hotel room balconies of a proposed 40-room hotel at 17, 19 and 21 Baltimore Ave. should be included in the gross floor area, adding approximately 2,500 square feet of floor area to the equation related to floor-to-area ratio.

Representing Baltimore Avenue property owner Gene Lankford was attorney Vincent Robertson. He argued the city has never counted external areas such as decks, balconies, porches, stoops and steps toward the gross floor area. He then went over nearly a dozen examples of residential structures built in the past few years where porch and patio area was not counted in floor-to-area ratios.

At the time, Molina said it was his interpretation of the code that all those areas should have been counted, but his staff traditionally reviews and approves residential building permits. All those properties have been overbuilt, he said.

Two days after the board’s decision, Molina said the city’s building and licensing department will use his interpretation for all new construction, commercial and residential.

The discussion at the workshop was cut short after a citizen noted it was brought up during commissioner comment and was not on the agenda. City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas agreed and the meeting ended.

In an interview Oct. 10, Kuhns said the code is ambiguous, which should be addressed. He said it’s confusing, and the city commissioners need to have a long discussion if these outdoor patios and decks should be counted toward the gross floor area for residential and commercial or only commercial.

Kuhns said he didn’t expect to place this on an agenda before the commissioner workshop in November.

In an email Oct. 9, Molina said he was aware of the brief discussion during the commissioner workshop, but he declined to comment on the proposed amendment to city code, because, he said, there will be a rehearing on the Rehoboth Avenue property before the board of adjustment Monday, Oct. 28.

Molina said he did not want to prejudice the outcome, before the board or any discussion between the administration and elected officials.