Rehoboth school project to go back before board

Site plan review on hold
August 28, 2017

Plans for a new Rehoboth Elementary School will head back before the city’s Board of Adjustment for an additional variance from the city’s lot coverage requirements.

The board will hold a public hearing on the school’s request at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 30, at the Rehoboth fire hall. The Cape Henlopen School District is requesting a variance to allow 33 percent lot coverage. Unlike residential and commercial properties, the school is zoned ER, or Educational Residential. This special zoning district allows only 5 percent lot coverage for educational facilities. The school had originally asked for 7 percent, but numerous features of the new school, such as basketball courts, pickleball courts, a storage facility and parking lots were not included in the original variance. School district attorney Jim Fuqua said the school plans to only cover 11 percent of the lot.

When asked by the Rehoboth planning commission how they did not have an accurate number the first time they went before the board, Brian Bassett, the district’s director of operations, said the district relied on the city building and licensing department for the lot coverage number.

The district was previously granted six variances by the board in May, including variances for height, natural area and lot coverage.

The school is seeking to build on the site of the current facility but with the main building more centrally located on the lot than it is now. Neighbors have raised traffic concerns, fearing two proposed entrances to the school, both on Stockley Street Extended, would create bottlenecks. The school district is using the same design of its other new elementary schools, Love Creek and H.O. Brittingham, leading to criticism from neighbors that the district was trying to shoehorn a design on the property that is out of scale with the neighborhood.

Because of the new variance request, the school district’s site-plan review application before the Rehoboth planning commission is on hold.

At the commission’s Aug. 11 meeting,  Fuqua said in response to questions from the commission, district officials have increased the width of the proposed fire lane, and basketball courts will have additional landscaping. Bassett said the landscaping is meant to screen noise coming from the courts.

School officials grew frustrated with persistent questioning by the planners on the athletic facilities that are planned for the site.

“This area is very important for the city,” Fuqua said. “It’s a community asset.”

The district plans to begin construction in early 2018 and open the school in fall 2019.

The planners have set another status update on the project for their next meeting, 3 p.m., Monday, Sept. 11, at the Rehoboth fire hall.

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