1. Where is the Bay Mart shopping center?
The Bay Mart shopping center is located at the southern tip of Rehoboth Beach on Route 1 across from the Spring Lake community. Currently, it has one significant tenant -- the All Saints’ Parish Thrift Shop. Although it has a Rt. 1 address and is zoned Commercial, the property is surrounded by three residential neighborhoods along Scarborough Avenue Extended, Silver Lane and Terrace Road. It has easy access to the City and beach via the footbridge across Silver Lake and via Terrace Road.
2. Is the entire Bay Mart Shopping Center within City limits?
Yes, nearly all of the 7+ acre property is within City limits. The one exception is a small vehicular access path to the shopping center alongside Beebe’s Gull House adult day care facility which is in Sussex County. This access path, which is essentially a 50’ x 110’ lot, is zoned MR-Medium Residential, but is currently used to provide a “backdoor” to Ocean Bay Mart.
3. While the proposed development may not be perfect, isn't it a significant improvement over the existing outdated Bay Mart shopping center?
While all would agree that the aged Ocean Bay Mart plaza is long overdue for redevelopment, the “be careful what you ask for” adage comes to mind in responding to this question. Bad, irresponsible development -- whether commercial or residential -- lives with the community for a very long time.
Rehoboth Neighbors United fully supports restoration of the Ocean Bay Mart site, but would like it to be a property that Rehoboth can be proud of…a property that enriches the charming environment that has been built and protected over many years within Rehoboth, not one that enriches only the developer. Within the Site Plan Review process, the Planning Commission has the ability to set conditions on the developer’s plan that are in keeping with the spirit of the Comprehensive Development Plan, and that comply with the City's building and zoning codes. They also have the authority to request that the developer submit a different type of building application, as they have done with BeachWalk. In this case, they concluded that the developer should submit an application for a major subdivision which would be reviewed in tandem with the Site Plan.
4. Public safety is stressed as the #1 problem with the proposed Beach Walk development. How can a new residential development pose such a threat to itself and surrounding neighborhoods?
The proposed Beach Walk development crams 63 housing units into a single 7+ acre parcel of land with minimal open space. Throughout the community, there are no formal streets, only narrow, 20’ two-way “drive aisles” that must serve vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic. There are no allowances for on-street parking nor are there sidewalks for pedestrian traffic. Consider that nearly 90% of the 58 single-family houses will have 5 to 6 bedrooms/bathrooms, allowing for a potential rental occupancy of up to 612 people, yet analysis of the site plan shows that these residences provide parking for only 126 cars. Guest parking is also very limited.
Additionally, the developer proposes to move the main entrance into/out of the Bay Mart property from the current Rt. 1 entrance to Terrace Road which is mostly a narrow, one-way residential street. Under the current proposal, the traffic light at the Rt. 1 intersection would only provide access to five townhomes, not the additional 58 single family homes proposed for the property. Because this forces access to these homes via Terrace Rd., Rehoboth Beach Fire Chief Chatham Marsch has testified that hook and ladder access to and through the property would be highly problematic for a variety of reasons. In addition, he has indicated that the density of the proposed community poses other fire safety threats to the residential neighborhoods adjacent to the property. DelDOT has informed the developer that he must maintain egress and ingress to the entire community from the Rt. 1 traffic light, but the developer has not yet amended his plans for that requirement.
Traffic and parking are also acknowledged concerns. As a largely, narrow, one-way street, Terrace Road is not equipped to handle additional volumes. Increased pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular traffic will likely create traffic and parking nightmares for residents of involved city streets. It will also create a public safety hazard given that these areas lack sidewalks. Parking concerns extend to the entire City of Rehoboth Beach as well. The City will be obligated to provide each home owner with transferrable and non-transferrable parking passes. If one assumes that each of BeachWalk's large, multi-bedroom houses is provided with five parking passes, a conservative estimate given potential occupancy, this measure alone would account for an additional 315 cars that could park free on city streets.
5. Opponents of the current BeachWalk proposal say that the developer has circumvented compliance with RB's residential sub-division zoning guidelines. In the Site Plan Review process, can the RB Planning Commission still impose building standards on the project?
The developer’s plan for the Bay Mart site is an end-run around the City’s zoning code. By maintaining the entire lot as one Commercially zoned lot, he hopes to avoid any restrictions that would normally apply to residential sub-divisions and single-family houses in the City.
Thankfully, through the Site Plan Review process -- which is detailed in the City Code -- the Planning Commission has the ability to ensure that the proposed site still meets responsible standards for residential dwellings, most importantly, that it protects the public’s health, safety and general welfare.
During the Site Plan Review process for BeachWalk, the Planning Commission concluded that there was no legal basis that entitled the developer to proceed with plans as proposed. They communicated to him that he needed to comply with the same requirements as every other developer for a large residential complex and asked that he submit an application for a major subdivision.
6. What’s at stake for the City of Rehoboth if the proposed Bay Mart development is not done right?
It’s easy to dismiss the proposed Bay Mart project as just one more “new development,” particularly since it sits on the southern border of the City in an area often regarded as the “forgotten mile”. However, the project brings with it significantly higher stakes for Rehoboth. First and foremost, the risk to public safety in this highly dense 7+ acre residential community is high. One fire safety related accident alone could cost the City millions. In addition, the proposed development sits on the City’s largest undeveloped parcel of land. It will serve as a gateway to the City from the south and, if done well, will make a statement to all about Rehoboth and the character of its residential communities. First impressions matter; the community's appearance affects its economic well-being. The value of this message cannot be overstated.
7. Isn't this the last big property that can be developed in the City? So, no matter what happens, it's unlikely to be an issue in future developments.
To permit this development would be to set a negative precedent. Don't think about what our commercial district looks like today. It may look quite different in the future. Properties are bought and sold every year. Use of land changes over time. Decisions made today set precedents for future development. It is not uncommon for a developer to purchase contiguous properties in order to redevelop on a larger scale. A developer could acquire contiguous lots and propose a similar dense development in the City. This is happening all over the country, especially in areas with high land values. In the near term, in Rehoboth Beach, the lot of the Walls Apts. at Scarborough Avenue and Christian Street is likely to be developed. We need to maintain standards for all developments in the City.
8. Rehoboth Beach is a resort community dependent upon tourism. Isn't building more homes, especially those destined to be rental properties, good for our economy?
Tourism is an $850M industry in Sussex County and Rehoboth Beach is its crown jewel. But tourism that recognizes and protects a community's value is the key to its long-term sustainability. Preserving and enhancing a tourist destination such as Rehoboth must take into account its character, heritage and environment. In so doing, every new development should be harmonious with the City. Development that fails to respect a community's sense of place will lead to the eventual destruction of the very attributes that attract visitors here in the first place. Our economy is, indeed, at stake. That's why we must assure that Bay Mart becomes an asset to the City, not a liability.
9. Since the proposed Beach Walk development is in the City, will residents have Rehoboth City services, e.g., garbage, fire and police? For example, if cars are parked illegally along the “drive aisles,” will Rehoboth police be able to do anything about it?
As a private community, BeachWalk will not be eligible for many City services. Our understanding is that future homeowners will form some sort of governance plan, such as a homeowners’ association. This governing organization will have responsibility for garbage collection, snow removal, parking enforcement and the like. On the other hand, Bay Mart does fall within the jurisdiction of the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company.
Police Chief Keith Banks testified before the Planning Commission that enactment and enforcement of regulations within Beach Walk will be an area of concern for the surrounding neighborhoods.
10. How many houses could there be if the development were to abide by normal, residential standards, e.g., 50% open space and 5000 sf lots for each home?
The parcel has 7.71 acres or 335,848 s/f. If half (167,924 sq/ft) were set aside for open space (50% of the gross lot area as required per City building code, and some consideration given to the square footage required for streets and other facilities (e.g.pool/pool house), the number of houses with 5000 sq. ft lots that could legally be developed on the property drops to below 30. The current redevelopment plan for Bay Mart calls for 63 homes, more than double the number that would likely be permitted as part of a major subdivision.
11. What is the provision for setbacks (from the property lines)?
Currently, the Bay Mart redevelopment plans call for homes that are 10’ from existing property lines. Thus, owners along Scarborough Avenue Extended, Silver Lane, and Terrace Road will be very close to large, 35-ft. tall houses , the maximum height allowable under standard Rehoboth zoning. These tall residences, most 5- and 6-bedroom/bath units, will sit 10’ away from the property line they share with the Bay Mart shopping center. The exterior HVAC systems for these houses will likely sit within the 10’ setback, as will garbage and recycling containers used by the owners.
12. How do Rehoboth FAR standards affect the proposed single family homes in Beach Walk?
The 58 single family homes proposed for the Bay Mart development are large, two- and three- story homes. Nearly 90% of them are 5- and 6-bedroom/bath units. The units are 35 feet tall, all of them are well over 3000 square feet, the largest now allowed on a standard 5000 square-foot lot in the City, and many of them will exceed 4000 square feet!
Analysis of the developer's plans revealed that BeachWalk's FAR of 0.62 is almost three times that of the surrounding neighborhoods, which average 0.22. This size house has not been allowed in Rehoboth since the first FAR law was passed in 2005. In addition to the scale and density problems, it is unfair to the citizens of our community to allow one development to exceed the standards to which all others are held, and serves to destroy the character of our residential neighborhoods.
13. Isn’t it dangerous to expect southbound fire trucks and other vehicles to make a U-turn at Robinson’s Avenue?
In a 1998 court case regarding access to the Grotto Pizza building (most recently The Pottery Place, now Rehoboth Surf School), the judge found that closing BayMart's main entrance on Rt. 1 would force southbound vehicles “to engage in highly dangerous u-turns into northbound lanes, increasing the risk of accidents.” Since 1998, traffic has only increased on Rt. 1, thus amplifying the risk that moving the main entrance to Terrace Road would create. Recent accidents during the summer of 2017 at the Rt. 1 and Robinsons Drive intersection only confirm these concerns.
14. It seems that the proposed redevelopment of the Bay Mart shopping center violates the high standards of residential development that exist in Rehoboth. Is that true?
If the Bay Mart shopping center owner were to develop a "subdivision," he would be legally held to the standards that we all know – specific requirements for open space, sidewalks, accommodation for parking, etc. However, it appears that the BeachWalk developer is trying to avoid adhering to those highly regarded standards. This appears to be a clear attempt (on the developer's part) to do an end-run and circumvent the City's existing subdivision process and standards.
15. How is the Bay Mart shopping center considered in the City’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP)?
The CDP calls for a walkable, “bikeable,” pedestrian-friendly community. The proposed development for Bay Mart has only a 20’ “drive aisles” winding through the community instead of the standard 40’ streets required in subdivisions, and it has no sidewalks.
In addition, the CDP calls for residential buildings that are in scale with the neighborhood and provides adequate green space. The current plans are very much out of scale with the homes on the surrounding streets and do not provide the green environment encouraged by the CDP.
16. What is the objective of those who oppose the current Bay Mart redevelopment plan?
Opponents would like to see the Bay Mart shopping center redeveloped. It is—and has been—an eyesore for some time. More specifically, opponents want the property’s entrance to remain on Rt. 1 rather than being moved to Terrace Road, which is a largely narrow, one-way residential street. It makes no sense to require southbound travelers on Rt. 1 to go past the shopping center and make a u-turn at Robinsons Avenue in order to enter the development from Terrace Road (next to Beebe's Gull House). This not only presents a safety hazard, but also forces a great deal of additional traffic onto the residential streets. DelDOT agrees and has ruled that the developer must leave the Rt. 1 access point "as is," thereby providing access to the entire parcel, not just the five multi-family homes that sit adjacent to Rt. 1. Thus far, the developer has not submitted a revised plan, acknowledging this requirement.
In addition, getting rid of the Rt. 1 entrance (where the traffic light is) presents a major impediment for Rehoboth fire trucks. They, too, would need to make a U-turn at Robinsons which would require closing down all four lanes of traffic in order to make the turn. Fire trucks will also have trouble with the 20' wide "drive aisles" which thread through the development. If there are cars parked in the road, fire trucks cannot access the homes. According to Fire Chief Marsch, they also cannot extend their "stanchions" which stabilize the fire trucks.
In short, opponents’ position is that what "smells like a duck and looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...is a duck." That is, this is a subdivision masquerading as a commercial condominium that purportedly does not need to meet residential building standards. As the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission has concluded, the developer should submit an application for a major subdivision. They would then be held to the same high standards for residential development as any other responsible builder.