State agencies raise flooding, fire concerns for Belhaven Hotel

Rehoboth Beach project expected back before city planning commission Oct. 8
September 24, 2021

The proposed Belhaven Hotel in Rehoboth Beach went for a PLUS review Sept. 22, and concerns were raised related to sea level rise and fire department access.

PLUS stands for Preliminary Land Use Service and allows for state agency review of major land-use change proposals before their submission to local governments. Among the reasons for a PLUS review is when a site plan involves structures or buildings exceeding 50,000 square feet of total floor area. The hotel property has an address of 2 Rehoboth Ave., but it fronts the Boardwalk and stretches south to Wilmington Avenue. The plans for the Belhaven include a 116,926-square-foot hotel with underground parking on 1.11 acres along Rehoboth Avenue. The proposal also includes off-site parking on Baltimore Avenue.

The meeting was short – it only took 20 minutes of a 30-minute block of allotted time – but the state agencies got their points across.

Clare Quinlan represented the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. She said DNREC is not in favor of redeveloping the property and does not recommend underground parking.

Phillip Cane, Delaware Emergency Management Agency mitigation project officer, said the agency had a number of concerns related to potential flooding hazards. He said anything put underground should be protected; no hotel rooms should be placed on the first floor in case a weather event happened at night; larger-diameter drains and pumps should be installed; and renewable infrastructure should be installed.

There’s a 26 percent chance of this property flooding over the course of a typical 30-year mortgage, said Cane.

Duane Fox represented the state fire marshal’s office. He said he was in favor of utilities being raised off the ground and noted that fire department access, under the current plans, is limited.

There’s going to be a lot of discussion before moving forward, said Fox, who encouraged Belhaven representatives to speak with him offline to begin reviewing their options.

Alex Papajohn, who owns the land with his dad John Papajohn, was on the Zoom meeting, but didn’t have any comments or questions.

David Kuklish of Bohler Engineering represented the hotel during the meeting. He clarified the project area in the VE zone has been modified to an AO zone, which does allow for subsurface parking, by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Those issues are moot at this point, said Kuklish.

Immediately following Kuklish’s comments, DNREC’s Beth Krumrine said the map revision wasn’t going to change DNREC’s opinion. Sea level rise is coming and there needs to be a change in the way things are built, she said.

Tom West, Rehoboth Beach’s recently hired city planner, said the city is actively reviewing the Belhaven submission and expects the project to go before the planning commission Friday, Oct. 8, for a conceptual plan review. There will be no action taken during that meeting, he said.

The city recognizes the location is prominent and that the current comprehensive development plan calls for revitalization of the commercial district, said West. However, he continued, it’s about finding that balance between revitalization and what’s best for the city.

Dorothy Morris of the Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination ran the meeting. After all the state agencies voiced their preliminary comments, she said official comments from each of the agencies were due in less than two weeks and the official PLUS review document would be completed on or before Wednesday, Oct. 20.

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