For Belhaven project, height is issue No. 1

August 30, 2019

Members of the Papajohn family, their lawyers and architects have been testing the edges of the Rehoboth Beach bureaucracy for at least five months now. The family owns one of the resort’s most valuable pieces of Rehoboth Beach real estate.  

Their parcel sits at the southerly corner of Rehoboth Avenue and the Boardwalk. It has been in Papajohn ownership for decades. In Rehoboth Beach’s earliest days, the property hosted the classic Belhaven Hotel. In years since the Belhaven’s era passed, the site is known more for its occupants – Candy Kitchen, The Ice Cream Store, Go Fish, Rehoboth Spice & Tea Exchange – than its architecture.

It’s time, the Papajohns say, after more than half a century without change, to reprise the Belhaven in an architectural statement worthy of the site. They expect to spend in the realm of $12 million. For that kind of money, the architecture should be as iconic and attractive as the casual, beachy elegance of the original Belhaven.

The process toward final design and approval will be long, but shouldn’t be overly burdensome. A project of this prominence deserves thorough consideration. 

Before getting down to the real design work, the owners are trying to determine what their final parameters will be. Commercial buildings in Rehoboth have a height limit of 42 feet. With architectural embellishments such as spires and finials, the stated limit is 50 feet. In July, plans showed a four-story building with a rooftop pavilion/bar/gathering place and architectural embellishments elevating its total height to 68 feet. “Wildly out of proportion,” commented one planning commission member.  A more recent plan shows the total height at 61 feet.

Height is the No. 1 factor. Rehoboth determined long ago it doesn’t want tall buildings. The low, tree-level skyline is part of the community’s sense of place. It’s time for the city to make that clear so everyone can move on and design accordingly. Forty-two feet for the structure, 50 feet with embellishments. Let the tape measure rule. Period.


  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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