Reopen Delaware organizer Rich Bishop said group members are not taking all the credit for the partial reopening of the beach and Boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach –but during an interview May 13, he said Reopen Delaware takes some credit.
After closing the beach and Boardwalk completely for nearly two months, Rehoboth Beach officials announced May 12 exercise will be allowed on both the boards and the beach, beginning Friday, May 15. The announcement came at the conclusion of a more than four hour special meeting centered on moving forward with a comprehensive action plan to reopen the city.
“I listened to that whole meeting. It was encouraging,” said Bishop, less than a week after Reopen Delaware announced it would hold a Storm the Beach rally May 16, announced as an act of peaceful civil disobedience. “I consider it a win.”
In an email May 13, Mayor Paul Kuhns disagreed. “The protest was not a factor in this decision,” said Kuhns.
The mayor said he and the commissioners listened to constituents; they also wanted Rehoboth to stay in line with other municipalities as reopening begins. Lewes’ beach has always been open for exercise, while Ocean City and Dewey Beach reopened their beaches last week.
During the meeting, when the mayor was strongly urged by commissioners to allow exercise on the Boardwalk and beach, Kuhns said a partial reopening would be positive for the city’s businesses and restaurants. He said Rehoboth City Manager Sharon Lynn told him it will take a few days to get the public restrooms on Rehoboth, Baltimore and Wilmington avenues ready for use. There will be no benches or swimming in the ocean, he said.
“I’m hoping there’s not going to be a wild crowd, but we’ll see this weekend,” said Kuhns, noting the predicted 80-degree weekend forecast.
As part of the opening, visitors will be asked to practice social distancing and wear face masks, said Kuhns.
Rehoboth Beach Police Chief Keith Banks suggested the beach and Boardwalk should be open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; commissioners agreed. Per city code, Banks said bicycles would have to be off the Boardwalk by 10 a.m. City code prohibits dogs from the beach and boardwalk from May 1 through September 30, but commissioners also agreed that leashed dog walking is allowed on the beach through Friday, May 29. Dogs will not be allowed on the Boardwalk.
The commissioners also agreed to postpone turning on parking meters and permit enforcement until at least Friday, May 29. Both were scheduled to go into effect Friday, May 22.
Bishop said he had been told that Rehoboth businesses and property owners did not want the Reopen Delaware people in town, but he said he was encouraged by public comments during the meeting and in letters posted online as part of the agenda.
“That turned out to not be the case,” said Bishop, noting almost all the comments supported reopening the beach and Boardwalk in some fashion.
While Bishop may consider Rehoboth’s partial reopening a win, he said not all of the Reopen Delaware people do, so they are still going rally May 16.
“I expected a little more of a celebration, but some people still want to be able to sit and relax and swim, which are valid concerns,” said Bishop, who didn’t put a timeframe on how long the incremental opening would satisfy Reopen Delaware members. “At this point, we’ll take what we can get, but we would like a full reopening.”
In addition to discussing reopening the beach and Boardwalk, commissioners, business owners and members of the public discussed how the city should move forward with reopening. Suggestions included putting the benches back in place; closing off large portions of downtown parking areas so businesses could have more outdoor seating and shopping; not implementing a strict percentage as to how many tables a restaurant could have; using beach tags to control the number of people on the beach; allowing businesses to continue using cones in the parking spots in front of their businesses so customers have access to curbside pick-up; and allowing beach vendors to set up pods on the beach big enough for four people.
Commissioners also discussed issues they don’t really control – primarily how long quarantining should be required for out-of-state visitors and whether second homeowners should be allowed to visit their Rehoboth property.
Commissioners have already scheduled two other meetings about reopening the city. Many of these ideas will be discussed.
The first takes place at 10 a.m., Friday, May 15; the second, takes place at 3 p.m., Tuesday, May 19. Both are virtual and can be watched on the city’s municipal website at cityofrehoboth.civicweb.net/Portal/.