Less than three full months into 2019, the city of Rehoboth Beach has issued eight demolition permits, keeping pace with the high rate of demolitions in the city for the past five years. The most recent permit, issued March 11, will see the razing of the cottages of the historic Walls’ Apartments.
An application to demolish the two, one-story, multifamily structures and an accessory structure at 104 Scarborough Ave. was filed March 7. The city issued the permit four days later; the notice states property owners can’t begin demolition before Friday, April 12. Taking up nearly 29,000 square feet – about half a football field – the property is zoned Residential-1.
The 16 Scarborough Avenue cottages are part of a complex that also includes several buildings along Christian Street. Among the buildings is the Lorenzo Dow Martin House, built before 1870. According to a 1997 column written by Cape Gazette publisher Dennis Forney, the Martin House is considered the oldest house in Rehoboth.
While the house has had a handful of owners over the years, the apartments and cottages were most notably owned and operated by Ann Walls McCool. She purchased the property in 1951 with her first husband, William Walls. She operated the business with him until his death in 1966. She married her second husband, Doyle McCool in 1968 and continued running the business with him until he died in 1983. McCool continued to run the business until her death in 2013 at the age of 96.
The Lingo family and real estate company purchased Walls’ Apartments in March 2014. As of March 18, no plans had been submitted to the city regarding future development. Bryce Lingo said March 19 the 16 cottages were being torn down because they are very old and functionally obsolete. He said the plan is to put single-family residences on the property, but the number and style are still unknown. He said as many trees as possible will be saved.
The demolition permit for the cottages is the latest in an already busy in 2019.
The first permit was issued Jan. 15 for the demolition of a one-story commercial structure, a garage bay, at 20699 Coastal Highway, home to Rehoboth Auto Repair. The demolition of the garage bay has been completed, and according to documents filed with the city, will soon be replaced by two new garage bays. Demolition permits were also issued for 44 Surf Ave., 7 Oak Ave., 11 Delaware Ave., 25 Brooklyn Ave., 1 Cookman St. and 36 Virginia Ave.
New construction changing the face of Rehoboth
According to information provided by the city, since April 2012, there have been 170 demolition permits issued for properties scattered throughout the city. An interactive map below shows the wide distribution of the issued permits.
In 2018, 27 demolition permits were issued – 24 for single family dwellings, two for accessory structures or garages and one for a mixed-used building.
The same city-provided information, attained through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 30 demolition permits were issued in 2016 and again in 2017.
In 2016, records show 25 permits were issued for single-family dwellings, three for accessory structures or garages and two for properties that each had three structures. In 2017, there were 23 permits issued for single family dwellings, five for garages or accessory structures, one for three buildings at 500 Stockley Street Ext. – the site of the new Rehoboth Elementary School, and one for the old Dogfish Head Restaurant at 320 Rehoboth Ave.
City Building Inspector Damalier Molina said he continues to be surprised by the number of demolitions taking place in Rehoboth
“I anticipated there would be a decline, but I’ve been proven wrong,” said Molina, who began working the city in August 2015.
Molina said he still thinks in the not-too-distant future the number of demolitions will begin to decline because, he said, at some point houses available for demolition will be about 40 years old. He said when that happens, demolitions may decline and there will be a rise in full interior renovations. Similar, he said, to the brownstones in Philadelphia that are stripped down to their bricks and basically made new.
“Upscale rehabbing,” he called it. A significant benefit to upscale rehabbing is the structure still falls under the old zoning code, he said, which means things like current setbacks requirements don’t have to be met.
Demolitions began to see a noticeable increase between 2013 and 2014, when the number of demolition permits jumped from 16 to 23. A Freedom of Information Act request sought all the demolition permits issued dating back to Jan. 1, 2010, but the city was able to provide the permits dating back only to April 2012.
The busiest month for the city demolition permit approval is August, with 30 permits issued since 2012. Following that is September, with 23, and October, with 22.
Molina said August and September are the busiest months to issue permits because the annual 5-month moratorium on demolitions in town ends Sept. 15. He said property owners submit their demolition applications in August and September so they can maximize time for construction before the next summer season.
As old buildings come down, so do trees
The demolitions appear to be affecting more than just old houses.
During a commissioner workshop Feb. 4, Commissioner Toni Sharp gave a update on the work of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Trees over the past year. Sharp is committee chair.
Sharp began by listing community outreach efforts and the benefits of Rehoboth’s tree canopy for residents and visitors of trees in Rehoboth. She then provided statistics related to tree removal since 2016.
On private property, Sharp said, 886 trees have been removed since 2016, while only 387 trees have been replanted.
“That’s kind of stunning,” said Sharp.
City code requires developers to minimize the removal of trees, but in an email Feb. 15, City Arborist Liz Lingo said there’s a correlation between the demolitions of older, smaller houses and the cutting down of trees to accommodate large, new houses.
Even if the new home’s footprint were the same as the previous home, when digging a foundation, especially one with a basement, the hole is going to have a 3-foot-overdig, Lingo said. With new home construction, it’s difficult for the front and side yard trees to be retained safely, she said.
Lingo said the discrepancy between trees cut down and trees planted is a result of city code. She said, except for a couple of specific species, mitigation is required only for trees 24-inches in diameter or larger.
“Many trees removed don’t require any mitigation,” said Lingo, adding the number of trees planted doesn’t include trees voluntarily planted outside of tree-removal permit requirements. “So, the gap between planted and removed is probably, or hopefully, closer to even if that’s taken into account.”
Permits issued, since April 2012:
- 2012: 14 permits issued, beginning April 2; 12 single-family dwellings, 2 accessory structure or garage.
- 2013: 15 permits; 11 single family dwellings; 3 accessory structures; 1 commercial
- 2014: 23 permits; 18 single-family dwellings; 3 accessory structures or garages; 2 commercial.
- 2015: 23 permits; 20 single-family dwellings; 3 accessory structures or garages.
- 2016: 30 permits; 25 single-family dwellings, 3 accessory structures or garages; 2 issued for properties that both had three structures.
- 2017: 30 permits; 23 single-family dwellings, 5 accessory structures or garages; 1 commercial; 1 for three buildings at 500 Stockley Street Ext. – the site of the new Rehoboth Elementary School
- 2018: 27 permits; 24 single-family dwellings; 2 accessory structures or garages; 1 for a mixed-used building.
- 2019, through March 20: 8 permits; 5 single-family dwellings; 1 accessory structure; 1 commercial structure; 1 multifamily structure
Demolition permits issued, by month, through 2018:
- January – 14
- February – 5
- March – 18
- April – 7
- May – 6
- June – 3
- July – 9
- August – 30
- September – 23
- October – 22
- November – 14
- December – 11
Trees removed, planted since 2016:
2016 - 250 removed, 117 new
2017 - 285 removed, 129 new
2018 - 351 removed, 141 new
Total - 886 removed, 387 new