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March 13, 1998     Cape Gazette
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March 13, 1998
 

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14 - CAPE GAZE'I'VE, Iriday, March 13 - March 19, 1998 Planners get feedback on Rehoboth downtown revitalization plan By Trish Vernon A small but vocal pocket of op- position failed to dominate the public input session Thursday, March 5, concerning plans to revi- talize the downtown areas of Re- hoboth Beach. Professional planner Bruce Gal- loway, who has been leading a steering committee composed of downtown merchants and city of- ficials through the process of com- ing up with an acceptable plan, stressed the importance of open- ing the channels of communica- tion with the rest of the communi- ty during his presentation that evening. ' Behind Galloway, the walls were plastered with artist's ren- derings of how each block of Re- hoboth, Baltimore and Wilming- ton avenues, along with Christian Street and Lake Avenue, could be transformed into more esthetically pleasing and pedestrian friendly thoroughfares. These drawings have been re- fined over months of discussion, "and at this point we have enough material that we needed to go back and invite everyone in," for their perspectives, Galloway said. Well over 100 people came by the city's conference roomduring that day's earlier workshop session to inspect the drawings and discuss the plans with Galloway and his associate, John Slater. With sentiment from those stop= ping in running 20 to one in favor of going ahead with revamping of the commercial area, Galloway explained that with this input, they will return in April with refined plans for the steering committee's perusal. The proposal winning the committee's approval will once again be brought to a public fo- rum, and from there, it will follow the ranks to the city's board of commissioners for discussion and, it is hoped, vote for implementa- tion. If they are given the green light, they would then proceed to con- centrate on funding opportunities and an organizational mechanism to oversee the project. "It's your decision," he assured the crowd filling the room, as Slater presented the slide show fo, cusing on some of the eyesores and esthetically pleasing aspects of the city. Slater pointed out that the vista of Silver Lake, with its bridge, gazebos and beach grass- es, reflect the flavor and image the city should seek to establish else- where in Rehoboth Beach. They praised the character of Bal- timore Avenue as well - its inter- esting sidewalks, foliage and resi- dential scale. On the other hand, they cited the cluttered store- fronts, the unattractive city trash cans, the transformers, "cattle car" benches lining the Boardwalk, the comfort station in the Rehoboth Avenue island and vast areas of asphalt as areas where improve- ments are sadly needed. Once again they explained how curb "bump outs," proper shade trees and other landscaping, and the narrowing of the avenue through extension of commercial enterprises could go a long way in making Rehoboth Beach more pedestrian friendly. Major im- provements to the Bandstand area (a roof, at the very least) and clos- ing it off to vehicles (except deliv- eries and emergencies) during peak season would contribute to the ambience and lure more visi- tors to the resort. "We want to create a people place with a lot more shopping power rather than have people just driving around looking for park- ing spaces," Slater said, adding that art, sculpture and an attractive bandstand would go a long way in adding excitement and raising the quality of visitors. "When you cross that bridge in- to Rehoboth, it will be evident this is a place with pride in itself- you can feel it immediately - 'now I'm in Rehoboth Beach,' " Galloway envisioned, as he broached the three most controversial aspects of their proposal - parking, circula- tion and recapturing street area, which could create more commer- cial space. Most of that focus has been on the first two blocks of Rehoboth Avenue and they have come up with four different plans to reflect these differences of opinion. The most radical plan calls for moving the Bandstand up to the Board- walk, adding a roof reminiscent of the old Horn Pavilion, with seat- ing and platforms, and resurfacing the sidewalks in materials resem- bling the Boardwalk in an effort to draw more pedestrian traffic into The Avenue and anchor the entire area with a distinctive theme. A wavy patterned sidewalk to Sec- ond Street and elimination of 100 parking spaces in the first block are suggested as well. Angled parking would be abol- ished and substituted with perpen- dicular parking, imparting a mall- like affect in concert with a nar- rower street and wider pedestrian areas. One scheme would lower parking spaces in the first block from 186 to 107, but add spaces in the other blocks, actually adding 50 spaces all-told. Galloway said many people have told him that during the off- season, they "better allow people to park around the Bandstand area, but in the summer, they don't care. Some have told me they must have parking all year long. I've heard many times that people want to drive around and look at the ocean, but others say all you can see is the horizon." He has also been asked time and again if these changes would hurt business. "I tell them I don't know, but if you have no people coming here, what do you have?" he said. "The quality of the visitor is dropping and store quality is dropping. One businessman told me that this is evident by the fact that now, at the end of the day, the $20 bills far outweigh the credit card slips." Two longtime business people couldn't be swayed, however. Sis- ters Helen Holmgren and Con- stance Brinkley, whose parents founded Dolle's and who still own the property, termed the entire process "stupid. If it wasn't for the ocean, no one would come to Re- hoboth!" Despite the outburst, Galloway continued to delve into the third controversial subject, adding com- mercial space by making Re- hoboth Avenue narrower, extend- ing the sidewalk and leasing city land to merchants. "This is the most expensive commercial real estate in Delaware," he stressed, noting that exactly who would be in charge of such an operation isn't crystal clear, but a business im- provement district could be estab- lished in the first two blocks of Rehoboth Avenue, overseen by a quasi-public management group composed of city officials, busi- ness people and landlords, as well as residents, "so that everyone is treated fairly. All partners would share in the responsibility." On the subject of a parking garage, Galloway admitted that he doesn't yet know if it would be economical, as it would only be full three months out of the year. "People downtown saywe need it - I'll get some numbers together and report back," he said, noting an obvious location would be be- hind the fire hall. John Papajohn, whose family also has owned property at the Boardwalk and Rehoboth Avenue for many years, read from his let- ter to the city commissioners ask- ing "what should be done and how much does it cost, as well as who pays." He cited past mistakes made in efforts to improve the ap- pearance of Rehoboth Avenue, such as the planting of inappropri- ate trees. Papajohn cautioned that they have tenants in their buildings who have no direct access from Wilmington Avenue and depend on using Rehoboth Avenue for de- liveries. His mother and other family members also reside there, he noted, "and we should have the same access rights to a public street as otherS. The closing of Rehoboth Av- enue to vehicular traffic would constitute denial of our property rights," he said, citing the U.S. Constitution. "If the city decides to close the avenue, it will be re- quired to cease such action or par- ticipate in a condemnation pro- ceeding to determine the value of the property rights that have been taken away from all of us." Papajohn did note, however, that a number of his initial con- cerns had been alleviated after dis- cussing them with Galloway earli- er in the day. But he stressed that he would be totally opposed to any changes that could negatively affect his development rights. Galloway countered that should the city proceed, his development opportunities would improve. As for how such a monumental pro- ject (estimates run from $6 mil- lion to $7 million) would be fund- ed, Galloway cited the creation of leasable space as the most promis- ing method, although state and federal funding would also be sought. The next steering committee meeting is set for noon on Thurs- day, April 2, in the conference room. 131VER Marjorie Alberts Won a Car and a Truck at Dover Downs Slots! 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