Rehoboth Beach hires its first city planner

Move comes after planning board’s ultimatum; city also looking for new attorney
August 20, 2021

Story Location:
Rehoboth Beach City Hall
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
United States

During a commissioner workshop Aug. 9, Rehoboth Beach City Manager Sharon Lynn announced the city had contracted with Tom West to provide planning services to the city and its planning commission. He is the first person Rehoboth has ever contracted with to provide long-term planner services.

West’s hiring comes months after a frustrated Planning Commission Chair Jeffrey Trunzo announced, at the conclusion of a second round public hearings on the site plan for Clear Space Theatre’s Rehoboth Avenue project, that as chair, he would not have the planning commission go through another complicated site-plan review without the guidance of a city planner. This was said knowing that in addition to Clear Space, which isn’t over, there are at least three major redevelopment projects staring city officials in the face – the Belhaven Hotel on Rehoboth Avenue and the Boardwalk, Rehoboth Grand at the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and State Road, and the Atlantic Crown Hotel on Baltimore Avenue.

During a planning commission meeting Aug. 13, Trunzo, who will be stepping down from the planning commission when his three-year term is up at the end of September, said he feels a great sense of relief that the city has hired West.

“I know it will really help the residents regain their faith in the site-plan review,” said Trunzo.

According to a press release sent out by the city a few days after Lynn’s announcement, West, of Greener Planning in West Chester, Pa., will provide up to 16 hours a week of planning services for the city through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends March 31. Lynn said during the workshop that he will be paid $90 an hour. West began working with the city Aug. 3 and attended his first planning commission meeting Aug. 13.

According to the press release, West will provide plan compliance review of all subdivision applications and proposed projects that require a site-plan review. In addition, he’ll determine if applications meet zoning code requirements, support the vision of the city’s comprehensive development plan, are compatible with existing nearby uses, and if the proposed use is the highest and best use for a particular location. West will attend planning commission and board of commissioners meetings, and work with the planning commission chair to develop application processes and schedules.

“We believe that having a professional planner on staff, even on a part-time contracted basis, will improve the city’s processes and analysis of planning applications while also providing for a more streamlined and well-defined experience for applicants, the planning commission, and board of commissioners,” said Lynn in a prepared statement.

Most recently, West was city planner and development officer for Lewes from 2017-19. Prior to that, he worked for 30 years with the Chester County Planning Commission. In 2019, West founded Greener Planning LLC, which provides specialized planning and GIS services in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Planning chair steps down as chair

At the time of the planning commission meeting, Trunzo was still the chair. However, he notified city officials Aug. 19 that he was stepping down as chair, effective immediately.

In an email to city officials, he said he would stay on the planning commission through the end of his term, but he wants to make the transition of Michael Bryan from vice chair to chair as orderly as possible.

“I appreciate and am grateful for all the valuable experiences I have gained these past three years on the [planning commission]. I anticipate this notification will facilitate the nomination and affirmation of a new planning commission member by the board of commissioners during September,” said Trunzo.

New attorney for planning commission

In addition to the new planner, the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission will be getting its own attorney, too.

Mayor Stan Mills introduced the subject during the Aug. 9 workshop. The city is at a point where city solicitor Glenn Mandalas' responsibilities are growing, and the time is right for hiring an attorney dedicated to the planning commission, said Mills.

Currently, Mandalas provides legal services to the board of commissioners, the planning commission and the city’s parks and shade tree commission.

Again, the Clear Space issue spurred this action. There have been two well-publicized appeals of the planning commission’s approval of the site plan for Clear Space’s proposed Rehoboth Avenue project. In both appeals, Mandalas represented the planning commission, which meant the city needed to hire another attorney, Max Walton, to run the hearing and to advise the commissioners on their legal responsibilities. 

As of the planning commission meeting Aug. 13, Mandalas, who is helping city officials find the new attorney, said the process has begun, but there wasn’t much more information to share. He said when the hire does happen, though, he will no longer participate in planning commission meetings.

At this time, Mandalas said, the plan is for him to stay on as legal counsel for the parks and shade tree commission.

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