Petition Calls for Referendum on Rehoboth Beach Zoning Ordinance - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Petition Calls for Referendum on Rehoboth Beach Zoning Ordinance

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. - A zoning ordinance that was approved in July is once again taking center stage in Rehoboth Beach. The ordinance, which aims to reduce the size of homes in Rehoboth Beach, has been under fire by many residents, and now a referendum could be on the horizon. 

Opponents of the ordinance have collected 467 signatures in a petition that calls for a referendum on the issue. Last Friday, the petition was delivered to the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners. According to the city charter, a petition can lead to a referendum on any ordinance, so long as it includes signatures from at least 40 percent of the voters in the last election. 

In Rehoboth Beach's last election, 1,004 voters participated, which means a minimum of 401 signatures would be required for the petition. However, the 467 signatures collected puts the petition well over the required amount. 

Gene Lawson, a well-known Rehoboth Beach attorney, was one of the fundamental organizers of the petition. He said the petition process is important for the democratic process. 

"It keeps (council) from being able to do something against the will of the voters," he said. "Because in this case the voters can in fact - by referendum - come and overturn them. And that's what democracy is all about."

The ordinance, which passed on July 17, increased the amount of natural or un-built area from 40 percent to 50 percent of the total lot size. It also increased the size of the frontyard and backyard setback limits. The ordinance tackled the issue of "Floor-to-Area Ratio" as well, requiring new houses with pools to adhere to a lower ratio. Lastly, the ordinance limited the size of houses in the main residential district to 4,500-square-feet.

"It hurts anybody," Lawson said. "Who wants to buy a house in Rehoboth Beach, tear it down, and build a new house. And build it with a swimming pool. And that covers a lot of people." 

Mayor Sam Cooper said he was disappointed by the petition. He said the ordinance was created to "preserve the character of the town." 

"It's a concern," he said of the large group in opposition. "But there are a lot of very passionate people on the other side of the issue as well." 

City Manager Sharon Lynn will now have 20 days to certify the petition. She will be looking to make sure that every name is in fact a registered voter in Rehoboth Beach. If she does give the go-ahead, the commissioners will then have to decide whether to repeal the ordinance or put it up to a referendum. That discussion will likely be held on Sept. 18. 

Councilwoman Kathy McGuiness, the sole no-vote on the zoning ordinance, said that she hopes this ordinance will send a message to the other commissioners. 

"When you've touched that many people," she said. "That many people's property... it speaks volumes. And that reached a lot of people."

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