It’s been nearly two weeks since Rehoboth Beach installed hundreds of fire-engine-red barriers to block parking spots along the first two blocks of Rehoboth Avenue, an effort aimed at encouraging social distancing while allowing restaurants to use the sidewalks to expand outdoor dining.
However, few restaurants are using outdoor sidewalk space, and the pedestrian-friendly walkway has hardly been used. It has, taken about 200 parking spots off Rehoboth Avenue, and that’s a problem.
During a special meeting June 9, Mayor Paul Kuhns said the city has approved 30 restaurant expansion applications, but he counted only four within the two-block section of Rehoboth Avenue that is blocked off.
Kuhns said he loves the restaurants being open outdoors, but the commissioners have to make the solutions fair for everyone.
Commissioners approved installation of the barriers during a meeting May 26; city staff installed the barriers a few days later. Almost immediately, the barriers drew the ire of first- and second-block businesses, who said they were left out of the decision-making process.
Kuhns said he observed little use of the pedestrian walkways when he was in town over the past weekend. Everybody thinks the city did the right thing, but the commissioners said they’d monitor the situation, and it appears some changes should be made, he said.
Since the beginning, Commissioner Ed Chrzanowski has been one of the biggest supporters of the walkway. During the meeting, he agreed with Kuhns’ observation, saying it’s surprising people are not using the walkway, but it’s the reality. He agreed adjustments are needed.
Chrzanowski said one of the problems with the walkway is a lack of signage. He said it would also be good to make sure the restaurants do a better job delineating the boundaries of their outside dining areas.
Commissioner Susan Gay said she didn’t think signage would change human behavior. All a person has to do is take a walk to Turtle Bridge, where there are signs saying don’t feed the animals, and then look to see people feeding the animals. Gay also said she had heard some people thought the barriers were put up in response to the George Floyd protests.
City Manager Sharon Lynn said signs indicating the walkway had been added June 9, nearly two weeks after the barriers were installed. She said the signs were made in-house and, because the city didn’t own the barriers, the signs cannot be attached to them.
Commissioner Richard Byrne said he would like to see smaller, half-moon shaped areas delineated as walkways, like those being used for restaurants on Wilmington and Baltimore avenues. He said he observed people using the walkways in those areas because their intent was obvious.
Rehoboth Beach Police Chief Keith Banks didn’t speak on the matter during the most recent meeting, but Lynn reminded the commissioners that Banks has said from the beginning he’s not in favor of some sections of Rehoboth Avenue being sectioned off, while others aren’t. It’s a line-of-sight issue, and he doesn’t like the zig-zag effect for pedestrians, she said.
In the end, rather than rush something through before the weekend, Lynn requested commissioners allow city staff to formulate a plan and present it during the city’s next special reopening meeting Tuesday, June 16. At that point, she said, commissioners could vet the plan, and city staff could begin implementation later in the week. The commissioners agreed.
Rehoboth Beach city hall to open June 15
Lynn said beginning Monday, June 15, Rehoboth Beach City Hall, 229 Rehoboth Ave., will again be open to the public. She said it will be by appointment only. In response to COVID-19, city hall and all other city buildings closed mid-March.
Rehoboth issued a press release June 10 outlining the appointment process. Appointments can be made by calling 302-227-4641 and by email. For a list of office contact information, go to www.cityofrehoboth.com/government/departments.
City Hall visitors are required to wear masks, which will be available to the public if needed. Business hours at City Hall are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents are encouraged to use the citizen self-service portal for making utility billing payments. Payments may also be made by U.S. mail and the drop box located outside city hall.
For more information, contact the communications department at 302-227-6181 ext. 522 or email@example.com.