Rehoboth should step back on new regulations

November 8, 2019

I am writing with respect to the proposed amendment to the City of Rehoboth Beach zoning code that would authorize the city building inspector to grant administrative variances from the otherwise applicable building, side-yard and rear-yard setbacks of up to one  foot unless an adjacent property owner files a written objection. 

As a general matter, I appreciate the desirability of adding a provision to the zoning code that would allow an expedited administrative process for approving a variance from applicable setback requirements for a structure, equipment or other improvement such as an outdoor shower, a handicapped ramp or HVAC equipment on property with an existing residence so long as the intrusion into the setback is genuinely minimal and nearby neighbors do not object. 

However, many city residents and property owners have already criticized the text of the proposed administrative variance provision as open-ended and non-specific, both procedurally and substantively. I would like to join them by voicing my concerns. 

Substantively, I am concerned about the lack of specific standards for granting such a variance, including the failure to include requirements that (1) restrict the new variance process to properties in the R-1(S), R-1 and R-2 residential zones that are already improved with a single-family residence; (2) demonstrate that design and location alternatives have been considered for the structure, equipment or improvement that is the subject of the proposed variance, and that the alternatives have been found to present exceptional practical difficulty; (3) show that the proposed variance will not violate one or more other zoning code limitations such as FAR and lot coverage restrictions; and (4) establish that the proposed variance will be in the public interest.

Procedurally, I am concerned about conferring broad authority on the building inspector to approve such variances without any administrative oversight unless an adjacent property owner objects in writing. I am not aware of any reason why the board of adjustment, which is currently charged in the city zoning code with approving variances, could not administer an expedited process for setback variances of one foot or less.

I am also concerned that the 15-day period afforded adjacent property owners to file written objections may not be adequate, and that there is no requirement whatsoever for notifying confronting and other nearby but non-adjacent property owners. 

Given these concerns, I urge the mayor and commissioners to step back and consider the broad policy implications of the proposed ordinance as drafted. Although I support adding flexibility to the city zoning code for residential variances that have little or no impact on the surrounding neighborhood, I believe the proposed ordinance should go back to the proverbial drawing board in order that the concerns expressed above and those of numerous city residents and property owners are thoughtfully and thoroughly addressed. 

Julie W. Davis
Rehoboth Beach


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