Dewey Commissioner Hanson Accused Of Withholding Information During Hearing

by Dave on September 16, 2010

Dewey Beach Commissioner Diane Hanson today was accused of withholding critical information from Saturday’s town meeting, where commissioners passed a new ordinance clarifying the definition of the controversial phrase “relaxed bulk standards,” which could eventually determine the height of the redeveloped Ruddertowne parcel on Dickinson Street.

The phrase is mentioned in the 2007 Dewey Beach Comprehensive Plan as applying to parcels over 80,000 square feet, of which the Ruddertowne parcel is the only one in town. It is this phrase that Ruddertowne property owner Dewey Beach Enterprises (DBE) believes will allow them to build above the 35-foot limit in the town’s code. Clarifying the intent of the Commissioners, as the ordinance passed Saturday does, would allow the Commissioners to selectively define which standards qualify as “bulk.”

The accusations surround a conversation that Hanson had with State Planning Director Connie Holland, whereby Hanson discussed the possibility of a ordinance that would essentially clarify the phrase and asked Holland if there were guidelines for such a situation.

Following the conversation, Holland received an email from Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) asking questions about the same topic. In her reply, Holland said that “if language change is done, it would be a plan amendment and the new language would only be applicable to FUTURE applications.” She also informed Schwartzkopf that she had spoken with Commissioner Hanson about the matter.

“What Connie Holland said in her email to Pete is accurate,” said Hanson. “If we change the comp plan, we would have had to have it recertified. But we didn’t change anything.”

Hanson made no mention of the discussion with Holland during the debate over the adoption of the ordinance, which led Dewey Beach Mayor Rick Solloway to claim that she “blatantly, willfully and dishonestly omitted” information.

Solloway called the situation “very unfortunate.”

“I would expect a full blown investigation from the AG’s office,” he said. But he made it clear that he was not calling for an investigation and that that would not be appropriate.

Solloway said he was not politically posturing, but instead said Hanson was doing so. He said it was “rushed on the agenda” and “shoved through on false information and bad precedent.” He said Hanson has manipulated and omitted information

The Mayor also said the concern is that the ordinance is retroactive. If it took effect now, he would have been able to vote for it. Instead, he said it appears to have been aimed at only one business since only one business is impacted.

“I will fight tooth and nail for 35 feet, but I will not break the law,” he said.

Solloway added that he hopes the town will consider rescinding the ordinance.

Joy Howell of the group Citizens to Preserve Dewey sees today’s information as having curious timing.

“This is clearly a political attack the week before an election and the fourth uncalled for attack on Commissioner Hanson in three years by DBE or its allies,” said Howell.” “First, former defeated mayor Pat Wright filed ethics charges on Commissioner Hanson who had to get an attorney and the charges were dismissed. Then DBE sued her personally. Then Zeke Przygocki sexually harassed her, in an attempt to humiliate her and get her to resign. Now this twisting of a conversation to raise hysteria and trump up some reason to ask her to resign. It’s silly and it looks desperate.”

For his part, Schwartzkopf was astounded that, in his opinion, Hanson deliberately ignored Holland’s advice.

“I could not believe that an elected official would ignore the person that sets the rules on these plans, the person that they’d have to go in front of,” said Schwartzkopf. “It is no wonder why they’re mired in lawsuits and high legal bills if they’re going to get advice from people and totally ignore that advice.”

Schwartzkopf also clarified his role in the controversy.

“I have tried to stay out of this as much as possible, as I try to stay out of all of the towns’ internal politics,” added Schwartzkopf, the House Majority Leader. “But in this case, I heard about it, I wanted to know what my role would be as House Administration Chairman, and then it sort of morphed into the emails (with Holland.)”

Hanson doesn’t agree with her detractors’ characterization of what has taken place. According to her, the term was not defined in the plan, so no change was made. She also added that she discussed the conversation with the town’s attorney.

“I told our attorney that I followed up with Connie and that they had no real guidelines. The fact that they had no real guidelines wasn’t relevant to our conversation Saturday and that’s why I didn’t mention it,” added Hanson. “This is something that both of our attorneys had already confirmed with Connie and were told that you can clarify anything that you want. You don’t have to have that certified.”

It may be a moot point, however. Dewey Beach Enterprises announced today that they will file in Chancery Court on Monday to invalidate the new ordinance. This will be the sixth lawsuit filed by DBE over the town’s handling of the Ruddertowne redevelopment.

Following the accusations Thursday, Hanson also issued a public statement, which reads:

“There is confusion over the substance of the information that I got from the State Planning Director Connie Holland. My conversation with Ms. Holland did not concern the substance or the procedure for the Town Council’s action adopting the clarifying ordinance. The reason I called Ms. Holland was because the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration, which assisted with our Comp Plan, had told me that Comp Plans are general guidelines. I called Connie Holland to find out whether the state of DE had any written guidelines about the specificity of comprehensive plans. What I was unhappy about is that the state does not have such written guidelines. We did not discuss a change or an amendment to our Dewey Beach Comprehensive Plan, because I knew that we were just clarifying what was in our Comp Plan already. And I also knew from our town attorney that if you change the Comprehensive Plan, it must be certified again by the State of Delaware.

“We did not make a change in the Comprehensive Plan.

“Nowhere in the Comprehensive Plan or in language of “relaxed bulk standards” does it say that we are relaxing our 35 ft height limit. Therefore, the 35 ft height limit ordinance governs the comp plan throughout all zoning districts.”

Coastal Sussex reporter Michael Short contributed to this story.

{ 1 comment }

Former Mayor Pat Wright September 17, 2010 at 7:37 am

CPD’s continuing attack of me is most curios. I’m not running for any office. Apparently my opinion is a threat and Joy Howell’s ongoing lies directed toward me seem close to slander. With regard to Hanson, an elected official should never withhold pertinent information in order to have her ordinance approved. That is just plain wrong.

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