Dewey passes “bulk standards” ordinance in fiery meeting

by Michael Short on September 12, 2010

By Michael Short

Mayor Rick Solloway thinks another lawsuit may show up in his in basket this week. That’s because Dewey Beach passed a controversial ordinance related to relaxed bulk standards by a 3-2 margin at Saturday’s town commissioner meeting.

The Saturday, Sept. 11 meeting was a fiery one with the primary topics being the ordinance, several ongoing lawsuits with Dewey Beach Enterprises  and the cost of litigation with DBE.

The ordinance was an attempt to clarify language passed during 2007  by the town commissioners, language which is in Dewey Beach’s Comprehensive Plan. The relaxed bulk standards ordinance applies to large properties of 80,000 square feet or larger.

In effect, that means it applies to the Ruddertowne Complex, which has sparked four lawsuits between DBE and Dewey Beach as well as on again, off again settlement discussions.

Saturday’s discussion was simply the latest round in the ongoing debate over what DBE can build on the site. The ordinance passed Saturday “further clarifies the mayor and commissioner’s intent that only selected bulk standards, as determined by the commissioners, should be relaxed. Finally, the ordinance  clarifies the mayor and commissioners’ intent that the relaxed bulk standards does not permit any height increase beyond 35 feet,” according to a background synopsis.

DBE has plans to build a mixed use project on the site and won a case this summer in Delaware Supreme Court when the court ruled that Dewey Beach couldn’t restrict the density of the development because it’s mixed use and not just residential housing.

However, DBE has also challenged the town’s 35-foot height limit and that battle remains alive and well. On at least two occasions, residents told the commissioners that “86 percent” of the town’s residents have supported keeping that height limit.

“The battle for 35-feet is ongoing,” said Joy Howell, president of Citizens to Protect Dewey (CPD). “It is alive and well.”

DBE spokesman Bill Lower read a statement arguing that the ordinance clarification was meant only to “deny and frustrate” DBE and that it  targeted only one single property, Ruddertowne.

He said that if passed, then DBE would have no choice but to move to invalidate “this ill-conceived ordinance.”

Saturday’s meeting included comments about intimidation, “fear mongering” and “bullying”  aimed at either DBE or its’ opponents, led by CPD . There were allegations that DBE opponents have been asked to leave restaurants owned by DBE. Former Mayor Bob Frederick alleged that DBE principals had previously been asked to leave another Dewey Beach restaurant.

“I find this discussion reprehensible,” said Dewey Beach Commissioner Candidate Jim Laird. “This nonsense has to stop . . . The divisiveness has to stop now.”

There were two passionate letters arguing that if Dewey Beach does not settle the lawsuits with DBE, it could be forced into bankruptcy and lawlessness.

If that happens, then Dewey Beach could face the loss of its’ lifeguards, police and town employees, according to the speakers. They argued that it would bring a return of “lawlessness” with drinking on the beach, slower police reaction time and no town government.

Commissioner James “Zeke” Przygocki read one letter, prompting Commissioner Diane Hanson to say “there’s so much misinformation, it’s hard to tell where to start. . . talk about fear mongering.”

Others argued in support of mediation to resolve the disputes. “We can all get along if we will just take some time and do some negotiation,” said Rose Lucas.

Some of the discussion focused on whether the comprehensive plan was just a guide, what previous commissioners had intended and whether previous committees were official or simply volunteers.

“I won’t say they have been lying. But both sides been stretching the truth,” said Dale Cooke.

The final vote to clarify the ordinance was 3-2. Prygocki and Solloway voted no. Hanson, Marc Appelbaum and  Marty Seitz voted yes.

“I believe it clarifies what the intent of planning and zoning and the commissioners were all along,” said Appelbaum.

Solloway referenced the talk of intentions and said that the commissioners should listen to the tapes of those previous meetings to be sure of that intent before making a decision. “They (the meeting tapes) are only two blocks away,” he said.

“It is in the best interests of the town,” said Hanson.

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