***UPDATE*** Garden Gift to Rehoboth Beach

"Garden of the Navigators" moves forward

Rehoboth garden wins approval

Officials agree to concept, debate details

By Ryan Mavity | Nov 06, 2012

Cape Gazette

Rehoboth Beach officials are moving forward with the proposed "Garden of the Navigators" near Lake Gerar but will further refine the concept to address concerns over the location and size of the project.

Rehoboth Beach — City officials have agreed to build a park to honor Rehoboth Beach's sister city.

The commissioners agreed, by a 6-1 vote, to move forward with plans for a garden honoring Greve in Chianti, Italy,  in Cranberry Park along Lake Gerar, a 16,000-square-foot slice of land across from Bad Hair Day. City officials hope to have the park ready before a delegation from sister-city Greve visits in June 2013.

However, the commissioners did not set a timetable for building the park, calling for revisions to the plan in response to concerns about the size and scope of the project.

The proposed 9,000-square-foot park, called the Garden of the Navigators, would be paid for by Rehoboth Beach Sister Cities Association, which fosters the sister-cities relationship with Greve. Earlier this year, Rehoboth officials visited a garden in Greve honoring Rehoboth. The Garden of the Navigators would serve as Rehoboth's reciprocation of the honor.

Commissioner Stan Mills, the only no vote, said while he supports Sister Cities and believes the city should reciprocate, he would rather see a final design before moving forward, as well as further efforts to tie the garden to the Verrazzano monument at Olive Avenue and the Boardwalk. Mills also raised questions about the size and scope of the project, as well as the appropriateness of reducing city-owned open space.

The relationship between Greve and Rehoboth had its roots in 2008 when Rehoboth erected a monument honoring Greve native Giovanni da Verrazzano, who mapped the Cape region during a 1524 voyage along the Atlantic coast.

Commissioners Pat Coluzzi and Mark Hunker strongly supported the new garden. Coluzzi first proposed the project and has made presentations at meetings in September and October.

The commissioners decided not to vote on the project Oct. 19 because a vote on the park was not included on the meeting agenda. Hunker then asked for a special meeting Nov. 5 to vote on moving forward.

At the Nov. 5 meeting, Hunker said he did not understand opposition to the park, which would be a gift, requiring little to no city funds. The estimated cost of the garden is $44,000 or $100,000 depending on the final design. Sister Cities plans to pay for the park through grants from Italian-American service organizations such as UNICO and Da Vinci Foundation, as well as private fundraising.

On the fence about the project were Mayor Sam Cooper and commissioners Lorraine Zellers, Patrick Gossett and Bill Sargent.

Gossett and Zellers both support the concept but raised questions about location, maintenance and other details.

“I truly support the sister city organization. I love the idea of cultural exchange, and I think it’s a generous gift,” Zellers said. “The bottom line is, it’s a city park, it’s public land, and it's one of the last remaining open spaces. I think its our responsibility to hold on to these areas.”

Zellers said the project is doable, but she has questions on the location and size of the garden, saying the garden in Greve is much smaller. She also raised questions about the park’s proximity to the lake, echoing statements made by Save Our Lakes Alliance 3 in a letter to the commissioners.

SOLA3 President Sallie Forman wrote that while the organization supports the idea of the garden, an environmental assessment of its impact on the lake should be done before moving forward. No public comment was taken or read into the record at the Nov. 5 meeting.

Hunker said the park retains much of its open space, adds more trees and is built 95 feet from the lake.

“It will still be a park,” he said. “This is all greenery.”

Sargent said he worried the city may be establishing a precedent by going forward.

“We may be setting a precedent that would allow groups all over, groups who are well-intentioned, but are going to ask for pieces of the city. If we grant this one, how do say no to the other people?” he said.

Sargent said the proposed garden was becoming a divisive issue amongst the commissioners and amongst the public. He said the garden plan should be revised into something everyone could be proud of, and  it would be a mistake to ram through a project half the community is unhappy with.

Cooper, while not opposed to the park, said he was also surprised at the scale of the project, expecting something smaller than what was proposed.

“It’s something that is supposed to be nice and make people feel good. In this case, it seems to be creating a lot of animosity, significant enough that it shouldn’t go forward in its present form, but should be looked at as to how we can bring more people on board,” Cooper said.

Coluzzi said Sister Cities wanted to work with city officials to revise the plan, and asked for a vote to move forward with the garden.

The commissioners agreed to move forward with a garden design but put off inking a memorandum of understanding detailing responsibilities for maintenance until the design is finalized. However, the commissioners agreed not to let construction proceed until the memorandum of understanding is approved.

Sparks fly in Rehoboth over proposed park

Association to gift “Garden of the Navigators” to city

By Ryan Mavity | Oct 23, 2012
Source: Submitted A preliminary rendering of the "Garden of the Navigators" presented to the Rehoboth Beach commissioners Oct. 19. The proposed 9,000 square foot park would be located in a 16,000-square-foot space in Lake Gerar Park across from Bad Hair Day.

Rehoboth Beach — Disagreements over how to move forward with a proposed park honoring sister city Greve in Chianti, Italy, left one Rehoboth Beach commissioner nearly walking out of the commissioners’ Oct. 19 meeting

The proposal is to build a “Garden of the Navigators” in the park off Lake Gerar at Olive Avenue and Third Street across from Bad Hair Day. A garden for Rehoboth was established in Greve earlier this year when a delegation from Rehoboth visited the city, and Rehoboth Beach Sister Cities Association wants to have the park ready when the Greve delegation reciprocates the visit Friday, June 21.

Commissioner Pat Coluzzi, who has spearheaded the project, said Sister Cities plans to pay 100 percent of the costs and donate the park as a gift to the city.

Commissioner Mark Hunker supports the project as a way to beautify – at little to no cost – a park that has fallen into disrepair. He asked for a vote so plans could move forward.

Commissioner Stan Mills asked if the commissioners could vote, because the topic was listed on the agenda as an update, with no indication a vote would be taken.

The commissioners consulted with city solicitor Glenn Mandalas, who advised them that because of additional scrutiny by the state regarding the Freedom of Information Act, and because the public had no notice a vote was planned, the commissioners should vote on the matter at another date.

Hunker called the procrastination by the commissioners shameful, noting the public had been presented plans for the garden on Sept. 21, in addition to a second presentation by Coluzzi Oct. 19.

Coluzzi said she was disappointed the commissioners discussed the matter for nearly two hours and were unwilling to take a vote.

Hunker then asked for a special meeting to schedule a vote, and then threatened to walk out, although he changed his mind and finished out the meeting.

“Waiting another 30 days is shameful,” he said.

Mayor Sam Cooper offered to have a special meeting before the commissioners’ Nov. 5 workshop to take the vote, which the commissioners agreed to.

While most of the commissioners support the concept of a park, the details have left some of them at odds.

Coluzzi said the centerpiece of the park would be a 20-foot-wide compass surrounded by a seating wall. A paver pathway would lead from Third Street to the compass and down to the lake. The park would include two olive trees, flowers, a hedge, picnic tables and information displays on explorers such as Giovanni da Verrazzano, who serves as the connection between Rehoboth and Greve. Verrazzano, a Greve native, explored the coast of the Cape Region during his 1524 voyage to the Americas and is honored with a monument at the Boardwalk and Olive Avenue.

Raymond Zebrowski of RPZ Designs, which designed the project, said the proposed park is a total 9,000 square feet. He said the project could be done in phases or scaled down depending on how the funding comes together.

Coluzzi described the park as a passive recreational park for adults to sit and relax. She said the cost of the park could vary: if the association decided to do everything as planned, the cost would be $100,000. However, she said the project could be scaled back to less than half that cost.

Coluzzi said Sister Cities intends to pay for the project through private grants with organizations such as the Delaware Commission on Italian Heritage, the DaVinci Society of Delaware and the Italian-American service organization UNICO, as well as private fundraising.

Coluzzi said the city could handle maintenance, because the only maintenance needed would be grass cutting. She said the park has been underused so it would be a good place for a garden.

As she finished her presentation, Coluzzi was serenaded by applause from the packed gallery in the city commissioners’ room. Most of the residents who spoke liked the idea of the park, saying it was a way to improve an underused area, although there were questions on the park’s placement, cost and maintenance.

Nicola Pizza founder and co-owner Nick Caggiano Sr. said, “This is a no-brainer. We’re not asking the city for money. It’s not an Italian thing. It’s something that fits into the community.”

The commissioners were more divided, with commissioners Patrick Gossett and Lorraine Zellers and Cooper all expressing reservations. Gossett and Zellers said they wanted to see the details worked out before moving forward.

Mills said he was still not sold on the project. He said the project is bigger than he was expecting. Mills and Gossett both said the city should enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Sister Cities Association to better define what each side’s duties are in maintaining the park.

Gossett said, “I think this is a concept that is very good. You can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Someone comes along and brings $100,000 to improve your city. You have to think hard about that. I want to move forward with this. But the devil’s in the details there.”

The vote will take place at a special voting meeting before the commissioners' regular workshop meeting, 9 a.m., Monday, Nov. 5 in the city commissioners' room.

Editorial, Cape Gazette, October 23, 2012

Accurate agendas a cornerstone of democratic process

recent opinion from the Attorney General’s Office was critical of meet­ing agendas posted by the Town Dewey Beach. The opinion, detailing violations of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, cited numerous meeting agendas that failed to provide enough detail about what town officials would discuss for the public to decide whether to attend the meeting.

This opinion has drawn stiff backlash from town officials across the state, who said they have long based their agendas on past opinions. Some attorneys went so far as to call the Dewey Beach opinion a sea change in what agendas must include.

The Attorney General’s Office has consis­tently denied any change in its view of the Freedom of Information Act. At a recent meet­ing with Sussex County Association of Towns, a deputy attorney general insisted the rules have not changed.

The issue is simple: Meeting agendas must provide enough information so citizens can de­cide if a matter of significance to them will be discussed or decided.

This issue surfaced again when Rehoboth Beach commissioners spent two hours debat­ing establishment of a town park – a discussion item on the posted agenda that apparently drew a large audience.

After the long debate, some commissioners called for a vote; the town’s attorney pointed out the agenda offered no indication a vote would take place.

No vote was taken. Instead, a vote will be on the agenda at a special meeting to be held be­fore the commissioners’ next scheduled work­shop meeting.

While some commissioners are grumbling about the delay, two weeks is a small price to pay to allow the public to have its say before a vote is taken. Next time the debate might be more far-reaching than a park – say, reassessing all the properties in Rehoboth Beach.

The Freedom of Information Act has a sim­ple goal: Residents are entitled to know what their government is doing and what their gov­ernment is voting on. As boring as it sounds, public agendas are a cornerstone of a successful democracy. If the public doesn’t know what its government is do­ing, no one can participate in the democratic process.

Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor; Laura Ritter, news editor; and Jen Ellingsworth, arts and entertainment editor.