Rehoboth Beach set to reopen beach, boardwalk for exercise Friday

Rehoboth set to reopen beach, boardwalk on Friday

By Mike Finney

Delaware State News

REHOBOTH BEACH — A four-hour-plus virtual special meeting among Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns, city commissioners, business owners and interested individuals on Tuesday morning led to one very real result — the planned opening of the city’s beach and boardwalk for exercise and dog walking, but no swimming, beginning on Friday morning.

As other towns such as Ocean City, Maryland, and Dewey Beach, just south of Rehoboth Beach, have recently opened their beaches ahead of Memorial Day, Rehoboth leaders decided it had better get the ball rolling toward following in their footsteps, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision to reopen the beach and boardwalk on Friday gives City Manager Sharon Lynn and her staff time to take down barriers on the boardwalk, put trash cans out, thoroughly clean restrooms on Rehoboth, Baltimore and Delaware avenues, and install signage suggesting wearing face masks and social distancing for visitors.

“I think the sooner the better, especially given the fact that Ocean City has opened, Dewey has opened, Lewes is open, Fenwick is open, so we’re seeing it on all sides,” Mayor Kuhns said. “I’m hoping there’s not going to be a wild crowd, but we’ll see this weekend.”

Since the beach and boardwalk have been closed for nearly two months due to Gov. Carney’s State of Emergency, the temptation to get outside and wander the boards and the sand will be great this weekend with temperatures expected to be around 80 degrees.

Mayor Kuhns said it is time to allow the residents of the city a chance to enjoy their hometown. The majority of the 40 people who called into Tuesday’s meeting with their input and others who emailed their thoughts obviously agreed.

“From what I’m hearing from people, whether it’s businesses, residents or homeowners, as soon as we can get the beach and boardwalk open for exercising, I think that will be very important to our local people,” he said. “I think it will be very important to the businesses, because then it gives all of our second homeowners the opportunity to come into town following social distancing, following the safe practices recommended by the CDC.”

Rehoboth’s beach and boardwalk will be open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily, beginning on Friday. There will not be any benches for guests because there is no plan right now on how to properly sanitize them after each use. Bicyclists are welcome, but must be off the boardwalk by 10 a.m. and the dog walking on the beach is expected to be temporary.

Officials indicated that tennis courts will also be open, but not for doubles play. Parking meter enforcement is not expected to begin until May 22 at the earliest.

The city commissioners also agreed to postpone turning on parking meters and permit enforcement until at least Friday, May 29. Both were scheduled to go into effect Friday, May 22.

When it comes to face coverings, Rehoboth Beach Police Chief Keith Banks said it will be a difficult rule to enforce, though it is suggested that they be worn when around larger groups.

“Obviously, we can do things differently in Rehoboth Beach, but right now there’s no law if they don’t wear them for us to enforce it,” Chief Banks said.

The interim steps still leave many decisions to be made about a broader reopening of hotels, restaurants, bars and vacation home rentals that are the backbone of Delaware’s billion-dollar beach tourism industry.

“I think everybody would really like to know when the short-term rental ban will be lifted,” said commissioner Lisa Schlosser, who also believes vacation homeowners who live out of town should be allowed to return.

Mayor Kuhns said Gov. Carney is likely hearing from business owners eager to resume operations in time to take advantage of the summer tourism season.

“I’m sure the real estate lobby, just like the restaurant lobby, is in the ear of the governor. … I’m sure the hotel lobby is doing the same thing,” he said. “Over the next week and a half or so, the governor’s going to have to make a lot of those decisions.”

Commissioners have scheduled another meeting for 10 a.m., Friday, in which they will delve into deeper issues, such as short-term rentals, playgrounds and other issues.

Gov. Carney said Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised by the decision by Rehoboth commissioners, and that it was consistent with what his administration has been doing. He noted that his order closing Delaware’s beaches includes exemptions for people to exercise or walk their dogs where permitted, while allowing local officials to enact tighter restrictions.

“We just want to prevent large gatherings,” Carney explained. “It’s complicated, but we are working together with the beach communities.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook group called “Reopen Delaware,” is urging people opposed to the ongoing restrictions on businesses and individuals to attend a “Storm the Beach” protest in Rehoboth at noon on Saturday.

“I’m happy the way we moved forward in terms of not jumping the gun and opening too fast,” Commissioner Pat Coluzzi said. “I do think it’s time to open the beach and the boardwalk, but I will say that after reading so many reports, in particular in Naples, Florida, they opened their beach and they had to close it one week later.

“We don’t have a vaccine, so the only way we can protect ourselves and the public is wearing masks and social distancing. With that, I think that the boardwalk and the beach should be open, but only for walking and exercising.”

Mayor Kuhns said this is just the starting point for gradually reopening the resort town, which is expected to come in four phases, most of which fall in line with Gov. Carney’s plans for reopening the state.

“As we look forward to this coming weekend, we’re going to have good insight on what warm weather will bring,” said Mayor Kuhns. “It’s supposed to be 80 degrees Friday through Monday and I believe sunny. This is what a lot of people come to Rehoboth for, this is the main attraction and then in addition to the beach and the boardwalk are the restaurants and the shops, the playgrounds.

“I continue to look to a brighter future, and I am committed to maintaining public health and public safety for all citizens of the city of Rehoboth Beach. The city’s economic recovery is vital as we move into the summer season.”

Associated Press staff writer Randall Chase contributed to this story.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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