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August 8, 2003

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22 - CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, Aug. 8 -Aug. 14, 2003 Rehoboth commissioners at loggerhead over land swap By Trish Vernon "This opportunity may never come our way again," Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper warned the Board of Commission- ers Aug. 4, during a special meeting that ended in an impasse over a proposed land swap. The board has been negotiating be- hind closed doors fora couple of months on the prospect of selling a two-acre parcel of land on the west bank of the Lewes-Re- hoboth Canal to Houston Ventures 11 for a 1.3-acre tract of land also on the west side of canal and south of Route I, owned by Ronnie Moore of Houston Ventures. Moore also threw in $I million in cash for the prospect of owning the city parcel that lies between two other parcels Houston Ventures is developing into dwelling units. The city now uses its land primarily for compost storage. Under the terms of the proposed agree- ment, the city would then assume the lease agreement with DiSabatino Construction, that purchased J.A. Moore Construction. DiSabatino has its offices on the lot the city would inherit, with less than three years re- maining on the lease. There is also a com- munications tower on that lot, with a 15- year lease remaining, which the city would assume. The city would have immediate use of the rest of the parcel. The lot Houston Ventures wishes to pur- chase is zoned AR1 and the agreement calls for the city to support the developers' desire to seek higher density zoning from Sussex County. This did not sit well with some board members. "This says that we would agree to sup- port no less than six units per acre and we may have to petition Sussex to increase the allowed density," Commissioner Richard Sargent noted, when the city has been vo- cally critical in the past about the runaway development lapping at its borders. "You'd never hear from us unless Planning and Zoning Commission insists the owner vouch for the contract in order to proceed with rezoning," said Steve Ellis for Hous- ton Ventures. "Density is so important to the people of Rehoboth. If they can't get the zoning they won't do it," Sargent said. "Just because they can't get six units doesn't mean they'll back off buying it," cautioned Commissioner Donald Derrick- son, who has spearheaded the negotiations. He also explained that they would actually not be adding to density in that area be- cause they would be assuming control of a property where 12 units could be built by a developer under present zoning. "It can't be developed if we buy it," he noted. Henry DeWitt, a candidate for Rehoboth commissioner in the Aug. 9 election, noted his concerns. "I haven't seen an independ- ent appraisal of the properties in order to verify if it's a good deal. Secondly, all we hear about is the need to do something about the traffic on Route One and this will do the wrong thing." Mayor Sam Cooper, noting they would be getting land zoned more appropriately for their use, said that the city would be get- ting a lot more for its land than any has sold for in that vicinity. "I don't know of anyone who would pay that much west of the canal. I know of one residential parcel that's still for sale at $300,000 an acre," Derrickson added. Preston Littleton, a member of the Re- hoboth Planning Commission, added "My concern is what this will do to the image of the city if it endorses anything that increas- es density. It's of terrific concern to the planners." He also asked if the city would use the land it would assume for the same purpose as the land it would sell. City Solicitor Walt Speakman told him that the parcel it would assume is zoned LI- 2 or light industrial, with a wide variety of permitted uses. There are more restrictions on uses for the parcel we now own and more rights under the new parcel. Littleton countered that at least the cur- rent city use, while not attractive, is out of sight, while the new area is very visible. "You have to be very careful that the use is appropriate to the view," he said. Derrickson reminded him that the current city-owned parcel will also be much more visible, as will the compost, when the land around it is developed. Heating all of this, Commissioner Patti Shreeve noted she may be wavering on the side of the land swap if it doesn't mean an increase in density. However, she said, "Our land isn't being well utilized and I think we could do better with new and fu- ture uses," she said, noting that with land so expensive in Rehoboth it could be a way of providing housing for the chief of police and other city employees so that they could be easily accessible." "I like her idea of upgrading the compost site," said Commissioner Kathy McGui- ness, adding that constituents are telling her that the city should buy more property and not sell any. "It's the duty of the city to acquire land and not let it go - there won't be a square foot available nearby in twenty years and that million dollars will soon be gone," Sar- gent said. "If the area keeps being overde- veloped it will detract from the value of the city and I don't think we should even think about selling the land." Commissioner Mark Aguirre noted the city budget reflects that they are in no posi- tion to acquire land in the near funwe. "We may find ourselves in the position of need- ing to raise taxes," he said. "I disagree. If we need to sell assets to pay day to day operating expenses - we're in big trouble," Sargent said. Aguirre replied that if they follow Sar- gent's idea of never selling off property, "we may as well take it off of the books as an asset." However, Aguirre said he could- n't second the motion on the land swap vote without an independent appraisal and didn't want to move forward in any way as a part- ner in increasing density in the area. "I think that's an opportunity for them to find out they are overpaying," Cooper said of the independent appraisal. 'q'his is a once in a lifetime opportunity - that land's more valuable to them than to anyone else. They want to get rid of an eyesore and have a contiguous project and if we don't accept this deal boards down the line will be kicking themselves. Our days for using our parcel as a city facility are rapidly concluding." Aguirre was told that a $5,000 appraisal would be a waste of money, as Houston Ventures is willing to pay higher than mar- ket value since they own the land on either side. Aguirre said he also wants to know exactly what is allowed on land zoned light industrial. The board decided to table the motion until the Aug. 18 meeting, with Ellis asked to find out if Houston Ventures would omit the clause concerning the city supporting any rezoning efforts. Rehoboth discusses changes to CDP; anticipates vote Aug. 18 By Trish Vernon The Rehoboth Beach Board of Commis- sioners attempted to hammer out various concerns over the wording of the draft 2003 Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) at the Aug. 4 workshop, in anticipation of a vote for adoption at the Aug. 18 regular monthly meeting. "Without nit-picking, some of the lan- guage is so absolute," said Commissioner Don Derrickson. He cited the wording on the future use of the Rehoboth Elementary School property as one instance. The CDP states that the use "will be limited" to edu- cational, recreational and open-space uses, while Derrickson believes the city must ne- gotiate with the school district for as much open space as possible. Schreffler Continued from page 21 "It's a personnel issue and at this point I don't have anything to say," said Mitchell. During Schreffler's 24 years with the dis- trict, she worked with others to bring it from a low-performing vocational center to a national blue-ribbon school of excellence. Schreffier also claims board members told her the district had run smoothly during her time as acting superintendent. "All state employees and citizens have me tmty to report suspecteu'ri'nancihf fireg- ularities, improprieties, fraud or corruption. I did so and now, after having been found very qualified for this job and being the fi- nalist for the position, I was denied it with- out explanation," said Schreffler. "The on- ly apparent reason is revenge because the "I agree; land use is a very important is- sue," said Commissioner Patti Shreeve. "It wouldn't be considered a 'taking' if the property is zoned for its present use. It isn't being used as R-1 now." Commissioner Richard Sargent reported that talks with state officials over the future of the school property haven't born much fruit. Since the state owns the school prop- erty, the possibility of it being rezoned to prevent residential development would re- sult in the land having less value, a possibil- ity that doesn't sit well with the Cape Hen- lopen School District and the state. "The state's pushing us to allow develop- ment of open space when [Gov. Ruth Ann] Minner talks Livable Delaware and open space," he said. board majority are supporters or friends of the prior superintendent." '`The Sussex Technical Educational Asso- ciation (STEA) is regretful that it got to this point and funds for students will probably go to resolve the situation," said STEA President Wayne Dukes. "We tried the executive branch - some of us met with the governor's office. We tried the legislative branchmlegislators have drafted a bill to make the board elected in- stead of governor-appointed, but the bill is questionable, and I'm not sure it would help this situation. "Now we are felt w/tfi trio j'uff/cial branch. The board has refused to answer questions from teachers, students, parents and legislators. Hopefully it will have to answer now." Neuberger said the suit is likely to go to trial in 13 months. '`There's a lot of frustration," Mayor Sam Cooper added. "The State Planning Office sends our proposal to the Department of Natural Resources, DelDOT [Delaware De- partment of Transportation], Department of Education and assemble their comments and forward them to us. If the planners re- ally did planning they would be on our side. Instead, they just pass along concerns of other agencies." .. "I've pushed to preserve the open space and allow higher density than R-1 where the property is already developed. But now I feel that it's important to protect things that are integral to a community, like a li- brary, post office and school. It's important that we have a school in our community, but land values are so high they could get a boatload of money if they sell the land and build a great school elsewhere in the future, which would be a disservice to our stu- dents," Sargent added. Noting the school site provides functions other than classroom space, Cooper added: "They pay no taxes all these years and the land accumulates value at the expense of the citizens." "This could hold up the entire CDP," Shreeve said, noting she believes strongly in the planning commission's draft. "The citizens need to understand that their work on the CDP pales in comparison to the work that will follow in the next few years in implementing it. Let our negotia- tions with the state be reflected in the CDP so we can get moving," Commissioner Mark Aguirre said, since the State Planning Office must sign off on the COP after it is adopted by the city prior to it having the force of law. "We can't do any zoning changes if they aren't set out in the CDP," Sargent noted. If we leave it like it is let's see if they are will- ing to accept it. I want to hear their argu- ments if their plans for the school property aren't compatible with Livable Delaware." Turning to traffic management, Derrick- son said he has concerns about the CDP not allowing any new transportation programs, with City Solicitor Walt Speakman agree- ing.that it may not pass legal muster. "I'm not a fan of buses, but I don't want to pre- clude something good that might come along," Derrickson said. Professional planner Bruce Galloway, who guided the CDP efforts, said that clause stems from concerns that a private transportation system could rent a down- town staging site and bring people in by the busloads. He noted that the phrasing allows the city to decide what should be allowed anyway, advising that it remain intact. Derrickson also has reservations over the wording on rezoning of Sussex and Fourth street areas. The CDP states that these ar- eas "will be changed from C-1 or C-3 to R- 2," and he feels it should be reworded to state that they will be scheduled for rezon- ing hearings instead. Speakman said he would discuss the wording with the head of the State Planning Office, Connie Holland. "If we pass the CDP it doesn't mean you must vote for the rezoning but if you try to rezone something else it wouldn't be consistent with the plan and you couldn't consider rezoning it," Speakman explained. "I won't put my name on something that says we will rezone someone else's proper- ty without a hearing," Derrickson said.