Rehoboth proceeds with plans for Lake Moratorium (UPDATE April 24)

Rehoboth acts to protect lakes

City approves moratorium within 15 feet of the water

By Ryan Mavity

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The Rehoboth Beach commissioners have approved a moratorium on building within 15 feet of a city lake.

The moratorium, approved on a 5-1 vote, affects only new permits and construction; no new construction can take place within 15 feet of the ordinary high-water mark of the two lakes within city limits, Silver Lake and Lake Gerar. Mayor Sam Cooper said the moratorium is an effort to freeze the status quo until the city can sort out issues relating to building near the lakes. The planning commission has been tasked with drafting a new ordinance regulating building around the lakes, including possible buffer zones and changes to the setback requirements.

While establishing a buffer zone around Silver Lake is proposed in the city’s comprehensive development plan, action was not taken until a public outcry against a house being built at Lot 6 Silver Lane, which opponents say violates city setback requirements. Opponents have failed in two attempts to stop construction of the house through appeals to the board of adjustment.

Commissioner Stan Mills, who voted against the moratorium, said, “I’m just sorry that this incident happened and had to light a match under us to look into this.”

Public comments on plan

In a submitted letter read to a May 18 public hearing, Marti Cochran, whose home is next to Lot 6 Silver Lane, wrote she strongly supports the planning commission’s comprehensive look at setbacks around the lake and other issues. She also questioned whether the moratorium was fair and raised concern the moratorium will affect every property other than the biggest offender, Lot 6 Silver Lane. As an example, of this, Cochran said while Lot 6 was able to build almost into the lake, she has had a problem getting the building and licensing department to allow her to build a safety rail at her dock for renters with small children.

A letter from Vince Robertson, attorney for Melissa Thoroughgood, said his client’s property should be exempted from the moratorium because it already has an approved subdivision with a 10-foot no-mow zone. The subdivision and the no-mow zone were negotiated and approved by the city’s planning commission.

Robertson said the planning commission agreed 10 feet of buffer was all that was needed to protect Silver Lake; he also said the city itself causes more runoff into the lake than any of the residents. He called adding an additional 5-foot buffer between the lake and Thoroughgood's property unfair and discriminatory.

Commissioner Bill Sargent said the commissioners should not grant Robertson’s request for an exception. Commissioners Pat Coluzzi and Mark Hunker agreed, saying an exception in the Thoroughgood case would undermine the planning commission’s work. Coluzzi said making exceptions does not make sense given the short time the ordinance is in effect.

Commissioner Patrick Gossett said the city should not myopically look at individual properties around the lake but should take a long-range view of the health of the lakes.

Bert Flickinger, 1011 King Charles Ave., said it was unfair for the city to impose a moratorium on private property owners around the lake. He said he was never properly notified about the moratorium and found out only recently when trying to replace his dock. Flickinger didn’t buy the city’s environmental concerns for the lake, saying there had been no environmental study, and the city has had chances over the years to do something about the environment of the lake but has never done anything.

Referring to the house at Lot 6 Silver Lane, Flickinger said, “It’s postscript. Somebody screwed something up, and now you’re looking at it for everyone.”

Commissioners approve measure

Mills said he was not con­vinced a 15-foot buffer was the best solution, favoring a 10-foot moratorium.

“It would still restrict any con­struction on the lake side of the line. A 10-foot moratorium has a greater impact in preserving the status quo than doing nothing. I’m not comfortable with 15 feet,” he said.

Hunker said, “I believe, with what we’ve been going through on the lake, it is incumbent on us to take this action while we work on changing the zoning like the CDP asked us to do.”

Gossett said, “I feel the lan­guage brought forth in the mora­torium gives us a protection until the planning commission brings back specific language, specific issues, specific zoning. I think the true knowledge we need to depend on belongs with the planning commission.”

Cooper said 15 feet is a reason­able buffer and not overkill. It gives the city flexibility, he said, and he looks forward to future discussion.

Rehoboth sets date for moratorium hearing

Board to vote on new construction around city’s lakes

By Ryan Mavity< Cape Gazette, April 24

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The Rehoboth Beach commis­sioners have officially made Fri­day, May 18, the date they will vote on a moratorium on all new construction around the city’s lakes.

If passed, the moratorium would prevent new construction within 15 feet of the ordinary high-water mark of any of the city’s three lakes: Lake Gerar, Sil­ver Lake and Lake Comegys. It would be in effect until next Feb­ruary unless the commissioners lift it sooner, and is an effort by city officials to preserve the sta­tus quo.

While the moratorium will stop any new construction around the lakes, it will not stop the house at Lot 6 Silver Lane on Silver Lake, which will continue to be built. It appears no further legal action is planned by oppo­nents of the house, who have de­cided not to appeal a board of adjustment ruling to Superior Court.

Being built for the Levy family, the house raised the ire of neigh­bors, residents and conservation­ists because of its proximity to the lake. Attorney Gene Lawson, representing Save Our Lakes Al­liance3, the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners’ Association and neighbors Marti Cochran and Sil­ver Nine LLC, appealed the building permit to the city’s board of adjustment, saying building inspector Terri Sullivan relied on inaccurate surveys.

The board twice rejected hear­ing the case because the appeal was not filed within 30 days after the permit was issued.

Lawson, along with co-counsel John Paradee, filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the board, saying the Jan. 30 hearing was not properly no­ticed. The Attorney General’s Office disagreed, ruling the board conducted its meeting properly.

Lawson said his clients would not further pursue their case to stop building at Lot 6 in Superior Court. In a letter to the commis­sioners read into the record, Lawson said an appeal to the court would be a lengthy process that, even if successful, would not address the merits of the case. Since the board denied hearing the case on procedural grounds, Lawson said, the court would merely send it back to the board and would not stop build­ing on the house.

“It makes no sense to pursue an appeal for such a result,” Law­son said.

He said his clients believe the city commissioners have the au­thority under the city charter to instigate an inquiry into irregu­larities in the surveys and prop­erty lines at Lot 6.

“Consider the irony in the fact that the moratorium you have before you would restrict every property owner around Silver Lake except Lot 6,” Lawson said.

Cochran also wrote a letter op­posing the moratorium as unjust, unfair and arbitrary.

“The action is unjust, because there is no showing of imminent harm from the actions or pro­posed actions of any of the other property owners living around Silver Lake. No one is proposing what the owners of Lot 6 are do­ing in building up against, if not in, the waters of Silver Lake,” she said.

Cochran supported the work of the planning commission in coming up with changes to building setbacks around Silver Lake, suggesting possibly mak­ing the lake boundary the front yard for setback purposes.

Commissioner Mark Hunker asked city solicitor Glenn Man­dalas whether the commission­ers could do anything regarding Lot 6.

Mandalas said, “This body doesn’t have any authority grant­ed to them under the code other than your legislative authority to change the legislation.”

Hunker said he agreed with the merits of the case, that some­thing could have been done ear­lier regarding Lot 6. However, he disagreed with Cochran’s and Lawson’s letters. “If we were supposed to protect it in 2010 and we were supposed to protect it in 2004, and we still haven’t done it, there’s no time like the present,” Hunker said. 'This is our only option legislatively to go back and fix this to make sure this doesn't happen again.' Commissioner Bill Sargent said, “To me, because we can’t respond the way the homeown­ers want us to on No. 6, has no bearing on my way of thinking on why we shouldn’t take action to protect any further action.”

Mayor Sam Cooper said the moratorium would affect Lot 6 because it prevents the owners from getting permits for any­thing else.

Commissioner Patrick Gossett said the moratorium is just part of a wider picture regarding the health of the lakes. The planning commission has begun drafting new ordinances that could in­clude regulations such as a buffer zone or changes to the set­back requirements. “Everybody is focused on the aesthetics of it. But it is a bigger issue than just the aesthetics or the setbacks of the lake. I think that bringing those issues forward – in regard to the health of the lake, stormwater management – there are other issues that have to be dealt with,” Gossett said.

“The moratorium is specifically addressing one of the many prob­lems that need to be addressed with Silver Lake.

“I don’t want to lose sight of the larger issues.”

Rehoboth to protect lakes

Planners take public input on new ordinance

By Ryan Mavity | Apr 16, 2012, Cape Gazette
Photo by: Ryan Mavity Rehoboth Beach Planning Commissioner Harvey Shulman, far right, questions environmental scientist Jennifer Volk of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control regarding buffer zones at the commission's April 13 meeting.

Rehoboth Beach — The Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission dipped its toes into troubled waters as it considered new ordinances regulating building near the city’s lakes.

In reaction to the controversy surrounding the house under construction at Lot 6 Silver Lane on the edge of Silver Lake, the city commissioners have tasked the commission to come up with the new ordinances, which could include measures such as buffer zones and changes to setback requirements to better protect the lakes.

The city commissioners are set to hold a public hearing on a moratorium on new construction within 15 feet around the lake. The moratorium would preserve the status quo to allow the planners to craft new regulations.

The idea of a buffer zone around the lakes was included in the 2004 and 2010 comprehensive development plans, but nothing has been enacted.

Chairman Preston Littleton said the commission would not focus on the Silver Lane property and was seeking to have a more generic discussion.

Jennifer Volk, an environmental scientist with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, opened the April 13 meeting explaining how buffers trap pollutants and take up nutrients that can otherwise seep into the lakes. Other benefits of buffers, she said, are flood mitigation, habitat for wildlife and stabilization of the banks.

Although a buffer would provide a benefit to water quality, Volk said, it will not solve all the problems, particularly for Silver Lake, which has had issues for years with sediment buildup and algae blooms. She said a buffer on Silver Lake would also be affected by existing bulkheads, riprap and docks.

“They’re going to help; it just should not be the only thing you should do to fix Silver Lake,” she said.

Volk said a lot of the nutrients in Silver Lake come from the urban environment, such as fertilizer in yards and stormwater runoff. The state’s Subaqueous Lands Act does not regulate Silver Lake because it has been deemed an isolated body of water.

Among the other tools Volk suggested to fix Silver Lake are reducing runoff by keeping stormwater on pervious surfaces, by asking residents to wash cars in the grass instead of the driveway or redirecting stormwater spouts so stormwater flows onto grass. Another suggestion was reducing the amount of pavement whenever possible, as well as using native plants and not overfertilizing plants.

After Volk’s presentation, the commission began to look at ways to balance the concerns of protecting the lakes without impinging on the rights of private property owners.

Commissioner David Mellen said asked Volk if it were possible to analyze Silver Lake to determine what the biggest problem is, whether its nutrients or stormwater runoff. Volk said the state does not have an analysis on Silver Lake.

“I think we need to know those kinds of things before we start imposing regulations on private property owners that may have some impact on their land,” Mellen said.

Audience comments

In this first meeting, the commission mainly focused on public comments and determining what direction it should be going in. The commission expected the room to be full, given what a hot-button issue the lakes have been recently, but fewer than 15 people showed up and only four citizens signed up to speak. two letters were also received.

Halfway through the meeting, Littleton allowed the audience to speak and interact with Volk and the commission.

Tom Zellers, president of Country Club Estates Homeowners Association, lives along Silver Lake and agreed with Volk’s assessment that a buffer will not solve all the problems. Zellers aid the commission should look into stormwater management before buffers.

“That’s where your problem starts. You’re jumping ahead and saying, ‘Oh, a buffer,’ but why don’t you look at where your problem is coming from?” he said.

Zellers said he would support a 10-foot buffer from the water’s edge.

Mabel Granke, 1013 Scarborough Ave., said the approach should also include working with the state and lakefront property owners to better protect Silver Lake.

“This lake needs to be protected, and we need to do everything in our power to do it from whatever approach we can make,” she said.

Sallie Forman, president and founder of Save Our Lakes Alliance3, said, “For now and future generations, the house being built on Lot 6, Silver Lane, on the shoreline of Silver Lake, with the City’s permission, will stand as a reminder of how city officials ignored their legal responsibilities under the CDP and failed to protect its environment and a valued natural resource.”

Forman said SOLA3 supports the planning commission’s efforts and called for a buffer, as well as site-plan review and an independent review of all new building projects around the lakes to ensure that builders follow state erosion and sediment-control regulations.

Regarding the balance between the interests of private property owners with the interest of people wanting to enjoy the lakes, Forman said, “You need only use a worst example – the house being built on Silver Lane – to demonstrate the impact of one property on surrounding neighbors and the environment. All the existing homes are set back substantially from the lake, not because they were required to do so, but because they had respect for their neighbors and wanted to keep an open view of Silver Lake for all to enjoy.”

The commission will continue discussion at a special meeting to be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 12.

Rehoboth to set date for lake building moratorium

Ongoing construction will not be affected

By Ryan Mavity | Apr 10, 2012, Cape Gazette
Photo by: Ryan Mavity Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper, right, flanked by City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas, discusses a draft of a moratorium to stop new construction around the city's lakes. The commissioners will hold a public hearing on the moratorium, Friday, May 18.

Rehoboth Beach — The Rehoboth Beach commissioners are set to put up a giant stop sign to homebuilders looking for an up close view of the city's lakes.

Friday, May 18 has been targeted as the date when the commissioners will hold a public hearing and vote on a building moratorium on all new construction projects within 15 feet of the ordinary high water mark of any of the city’s three lakes: Silver Lake, Lake Gerar and Lake Comegys.

The moratorium would be in effect until Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 or unless the commissioners lift it sooner.

The purpose of the moratorium is to provide the planning commission with time to draft ordinances establishing new building regulations for building around the lakes, such as a permanent buffer zone and changes to setback requirements.

On March 16, the commissioners tasked the planning commission with drafting the new ordinances. The planners are seeking public input to help develop these ordinances, beginning at the commission's 6 p.m., Friday, April 13 meeting.

Ongoing construction and permits in process with the building and licensing office would not be affected; the moratorium only applies to new construction.

The only opposition to the measure came from Silver Lake property owner Tom Zellers, husband of Commissioner Lorraine Zellers, who recused herself from the discussion. Tom Zellers said the moratorium is unfair for lake property owners who already have structures, such as decks and air conditioning units, close to the lake.

Zellers said he didn’t want to see homeowners have to go to the board of adjustment just to replace an air conditioning unit.

The idea of a buffer zone around the lakes is not new; establishing a buffer was recommended in the 2004 and 2010 comprehensive development plans, but the city commissioners never acted.

The issue has flared up now after neighbors and lake advocates raised concerns over the house being built at Lot 6 Silver Lane off Silver Lake where the foundation of the house appeared to rise up out of the lake.

Opponents of the house, being built for the Levy family, have tried to stop construction to clarify questions about the surveys, but have twice been rejected by the board of adjustment for a hearing appealing the building permit because they did not file the appeal within 30 days.

Because the moratorium is a change to the zoning code, the commissioners must first adopt a resolution setting a public hearing, which they plan to do at the Friday, April 20 regular meeting.

Mayor Sam Cooper said while he isn’t a fan of moratoriums, he did not see this one having a big impact.

“Obviously a project has brought it to the foreforont and this is an effort to say, the planning commission is going to be looking at this. We want to freeze the status quo to allow them time to come back,” he said.