Some Rehoboth Beach residents say the trend toward building massive homes — what they call ‘mini-hotels’ in residential areas — degrades the neighborhood feel of the town. But other property owners contend that the new houses — with swimming pools, modern high-end amenities and room for 20 or more people — fit the resort’s identity as a tourist destination.

By Lynn R. Parks  |  Photograph by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
From the August 2016 issue

RehobothCharacter A Question of Character - Delaware Beach LifeSummers at the Myers vacation home in The Pines section of Rehoboth Beach aren’t as nice as they used to be. The house is no longer in a quiet neighborhood, says Lynne Myers, who owns the property with her husband, Donald.

Last summer, her grandchildren had trouble sleeping, and Myers says she couldn’t sit in her backyard and read.

The difference: Two new homes that have been built nearby, each of which has a pool. “Mega-homes,” Myers calls them — houses that she asserts were constructed strictly with renting in mind.

“They are beautiful to look at, but they are built to accommodate the maximum number of people.”

And with the pools right there, the renters often stay at home instead of walking the block and a half to the ocean. “They congregate and they party and even when they are trying to be considerate, they have to talk over the water fountains,” she adds. “It’s so loud.”

The Myerses were among the Rehoboth Beach residents who pushed last year for new zoning laws to curtail the construction of such homes. They wrote a letter to the editor of the Cape Gazette, which appeared in the Oct. 30 edition. “[Our] tranquility was shattered when two large rental homes were built behind our house,” the couple wrote. “Each has a swimming pool that generates constant noise — children shouting, parents and family trying to talk over the noise, and music blaring from loudspeakers and boomboxes. The noise and commotion are nonstop.”

In addition, Donald Myers spoke at a Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners’ public hearing on the proposed zoning, held last July. “Balance is needed,” he said, according to the hearing’s minutes. “The people who are concerned and who want something done live next-door to a large house or live next-door to a large house with a pool. The people who are against the zoning changes are developers.”

The commissioners approved the new ordinance immediately following the hearing. Put to a referendum in November, the changes also won the approval of a majority of voters (see “Why a Referendum” on page 71).

This summer, “houses are being built under the new zoning,” says Commissioner Stan Mills, who voted for the change. “It’s already having an impact.”

But not everyone would agree that that impact is a good thing. Dave McCarthy, a developer and real estate agent, and Walt Cassel — both of whom are residents of Rehoboth Beach — own the Park Avenue properties that back up to the Myerses’ home. “Now, a lot of people who want to build in town can’t get what they want,” McCarthy complains. “Some people modify their plans and go ahead. But others say that they aren’t interested and go someplace else. I think that this will definitely slow building down in town.”

Similarly, attorney Gene Lawson, who is representing several clients who want to build homes that are larger than the new regulations allow, says he also has heard from investors who changed their minds about buying in the city. With the new zoning, as well as new laws addressing noise levels (passed in April 2015), backyard swimming pools (June 2015) and rental properties (April of this year), “people are just afraid of what the city council is going to do next,” he says.

Lawson, whose law office is on Rehoboth Avenue, admits that he is a proponent of private property rights: “I don’t think that government should interfere with what people want to do on their own land.”

But his disagreement with the new zoning goes beyond that. He believes supporters of the ordinance don’t understand the true character of Rehoboth.

“I get very irritated when they try to turn this town into a nursing home. It seems that they want a place for people to come and retire, to sit around quietly and go to bed at 9 p.m. I want Rehoboth to continue to be what it has been for the last 35 years that I’ve been here: vibrant enough to attract young people and at the same time sedate, sophisticated, and a good place for families of all descriptions to visit.”

Setting new standards

Complaints about new, large rental homes — what Mills calls “mini-hotels” — first came before the city’s Board of Commissioners in September 2014, at a joint meeting with the planning commission. Planners had been charged by the board with investigating the effects of backyard pools on trees (the number and spacing of which are diminished when pools are added to a property). But after hearing from citizens that the problem went beyond arboreal concerns — that residential neighborhoods were being commercialized by the construction of large rental homes and private pools — the planners requested the meeting with commissioners. “The planning commission saw much bigger issues, things far beyond swimming pools,” according to the minutes of the meeting.

“There were a significant number of citizens who were concerned about noise, overcrowding, trash and parking congestion,” Mills recalls.

From that meeting grew the city’s new zoning ordinance, approved by the Board of Commissioners on July 17, 2015.

“Although progress has been made to reduce the scale of mega-vacation homes … the fundamental problem of regulating the use of vacation rental properties remains a disappointment,” the ordinance says. The large homes have “contributed to traffic and parking congestion, noise and other undesirable qualities that threaten the character of the city’s residential neighborhoods.”

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