The Ocean View Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed the concept plan for a mini golf course to be located at 3 Atlantic Avenue. The application was submitted by Patrick and Rebecca Adams.

“This is a concept plan review,” said Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader. “It does not mean that we’re going to have any votes or approvals this evening on this particular item…”

Schrader reminded those in attendance that while the Planning and Zoning Commission allows for public participation, those who wished to speak against the allowance of a miniature golf course were not appropriate for the setting.

“To be blunt, that ship has sailed,” he said. “There has already been a special exception granted. We’re at the concept plan review, we’ll move into the preliminary site plan review and then the final site plan review. There is no authority granted to this commission to stop the use that has already been permitted on this particular site.”

Schrader said the evening’s review would strictly be looking at technical requirements.

Town Engineer Jim Lober, P.E. of The Kercher Group presented a four-page review of the plan, noting structures including a boat, waterfall and pond on the course were designed within the front and side setbacks.

“The golf course will need to be redesigned to move all elements behind the setback lines or variances will need to be obtained from the Board of Adjustment for relief from the required setbacks.”

Vince Robertson, Esq. served as council to the Adams’ family, asked the Town to revisit its code and how it’s applied, noting other area commercial uses with landscape features, such as Bear Trap Dunes and Salted Rim, which have features within the Town’s required setbacks.

Schrader said the structures in question may not be similar to that of a fence, shrubbery or hedge.

Lober noted that a small extension off the back of the proposed building encroaches into the 15-foot building setback, which would need to be removed, shifted, or the developers would need to seek a variance.

Lober said the applicant is required to develop a hydrologic and hydraulic engineering analyses and technical data reflecting the proposed activity, noting the additional activity on the parcel may not increase the base flood elevation more than one foot at any point. A wetland delineation report must also be provided to the Town.

Parking was a point of discussion, as the Town’s code does not currently include a minimum number of required parking spaces for the proposed use. Lober said per code, “the required number of parking spaces for uses not specifically listed shall be the same for a similar listed use,” noting that restaurant was the similar use chosen.

The number of parking spaces required is based on an estimate of the total proposed floor area of the buildings and the restaurant multiplier of one parking space for each 50-square-feet of floor area is 28.”

Lober said the plan currently includes 16 spaces, and would have to be revised or the applicant would have to provide a parking study for consideration to permit a modification of the number of spaces required.

He also noted that only one, non-van-accessible handicapped parking space, was delineated. A van-accessible, ADA-compliant space would need to be provided.

Robertson said while using a restaurant may be the closest use to miniature golf course it’s not necessarily the best comparison.

“I looked through the codes of Sussex County and resort towns and nobody has parking requirements for mini golf courses. You think as prevalent as they are along the resort communities somebody would have one. Well, nobody does.”

Robertson said in looking at area courses none have such a high parking requirement.

“It’s anywhere from zero to a greater number, but there’s also a greater number of uses on that same site whether it be a restaurant, arcade or laser tag. We would ask there would be some leniency on that.”

He also noted that no one wants unnecessary impervious cover nor clients do not want to “pave over” Ocean View.

“We want to have the right number of parking spaces that’s required so we don’t create a problem but we don’t want to have too many where there’s unnecessary pavement.”

Lober noted the Town didn’t “just throw a dart” to choose restaurant as the most similar use, adding he believed the only way the Town and applicant could come to an agreement on the parking requirements would be following a parking study.

Douglas Brown of RAUCH inc., the engineering firm working for the Adams’ family, said

“I have yet to find a code on the eastern shore that talks specifically about parking requirements for mini golf courses because they’re so widespread,” he said. “Our approach at RAUCH is to prepare a study and give you ten similar-sized and scope mini golf courses and the parking requirements those have that have been approved, and let you guys make a determination about its applicability — the standards derived from that… I feel comfortable that that issue can be resolved.”

Brown said the sticky issue is what one defines as a “structure.”

“Is a structure fences, walls and associated signs and hedges or is it the boat? Unfortunately, I think that’s something that’s going to fall on you guys to make a determination on what is a structure because there is a conflict between the code the Town Engineer referenced and your own code which specifically says that walls, fences, and landscaping are allowable.”

Rebecca Adams spoke to the commission, noting that she and her husband are fans of miniature golf, and it’s been a dream of theirs to open a course.

“We did put a lot of thought into the parking,” she added. “In the code, I believe a church and a funeral home only calls for 14 or 15 parking spots, if you think about that, that’s how people would come and go from miniature golf… That was the thought process when we did this.

“We had looked at miniature golf courses in the area, but we actually went out and counted miniature golf parking spots. If you look at the miniature golfs in the area, Bethany Pirate Golf, there’s no parking spots — you park on the street or walk there. There’re no requirements for parking. If we go to Fenwick where Game Planet is, there’s a restaurant, game center, laser tag, miniature golf and some refreshments being sold, there’s 38 spots for four different businesses.”

Prior to public comment, Schrader noted the Town received a number of letters citing concerns related to traffic, noise, parking, lighting, and environment.

Ocean Mist property owner Robert Johnson said he drove four hours to the meeting to hear he would not be able to oppose the use of the property for a miniature golf course.

“What do we do if we want to try to appeal this?”

“I’m going to ask you to probably direct that question to an attorney who may want to represent you,” responded Schrader. “It needs to be taken to Superior Court. They’re going to have to demonstrate that the public record at the public hearing that took place on this matter was not adequate to support the conclusions of the Board of Adjustment.”

Johnson voiced his upset that the “burden” to appeal would fall on the property owners.

“I will say this, this application did not go smoothly,” responded Schrader. “There were a number of people who opposed it and continued to oppose it up through and including the night of the special exception… Clearly there were opponents to the application.”

“I appreciate you saying that but don’t care about them,” said Johnson. “I care about the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity because I wasn’t informed.”

Tom Meleck, also of Ocean Mist, said he believed parking was an issue, noting that if the course were at capacity, there would be a total of 272 persons in and out of the course in 14 hours.

He noted concerns related to the removal of trees on the property, the impact on nature, traffic and the proposed hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“Our town is a small town, and my wife and I wanted to retire here. The parking and use here as a mini golf is cool but it’s really going to jam up traffic,” he said, noting a different property would likely be better suited for the use.

Bruce Brandy of Ocean Mist asked if the traffic study would address traffic on Route 26.

“No it will not,” said Lober. “That’s [The Delaware Department of Transportation’s] jurisdiction and DelDOT has approved the entrance and configuration.”

“With no stop signs or anything like that? Just coming and going with the current driveway as it is today,” asked Brandt.

“That’s beyond the Town’s jurisdiction,” said Lober, saying no changes were required by the agency. Brown noted a stop sign would be installed at the property’s exit to Route 26.

Brandt added he believes the Town’s requirement of 28 parking spaces is correct, and should not be reduced.

Cindy Brandt also voiced concerns regarding the safety of small children that reside in the Ocean Mist development, and how the business will impact area traffic.

Terry Meleck also requested that bike racks be provided, so that those who choose to patron the course will be able to safely store their bicycles. Adams said bike racks are included in the plan.

The commission, which did not vote at the April 18 meeting, agreed that the applicant was on the right track and should address the concerns brought forth by Kercher, including providing a parking study.

Staff Reporter (former)

Maria Counts is a former staff reporter for the Coastal Point.