Interview: Dewey Beach Mayor Diane Hanson

by Dave on October 7, 2010

CSW: How does it feel to be the new Mayor?

DH: It feels very gratifying. I’m very pleased to have the support of the people of Dewey Beach. I think it’s a positive thing in terms of being able to move forward in this whole process.

CSW: It’s a challenging time as well. The town has six lawsuits filed against it over the Ruddertowne redevelopment controversy. You have been vocal in your support for fighting those and not backing down, despite the expense involved in defending those and the risk of bankruptcy. Do you think the voters ratified your position with their votes?

DH: Yes. They did personally and they did by their votes. They want us to continue the fight. They are very strong; I am amazed at how strong the 35-foot mantra still is (referring to the town’s 35-foot height limit), but people love the character of the town and people feel a large development at Ruddertowne would change the character of the town in a way that they don’t want to see. They’re concerned about the density of everything, the number of people it will bring to town, the traffic congestion.

CSW: Is there a ‘Pandora’s Box’ effect that people are afraid of, that opening the door will lead to more development of a similar nature, despite the fact that the Ruddertowne parcel is the only 80,000 square foot parcel in town?

DH: It’s a clear concern of the people of the town. At this point, there’s only one property owner that has 80,000 square feet, but it would not be hard for others to acquire that by buying other properties, both in the Ruddertowne area as well as in other parts of the town. And so people do get very concerned about that because if you pay enough money for legal fees, you can find a loophole somewhere, and that’s what their concern is.

CSW: The controversial term “relaxed bulk standards” is at the center of the Ruddertowne controversy, with the property owner stating that phrase should allow them to build over 35 feet. DO you feel like the town council has done everything in their power to solidify the position that “relaxed bulk standards” does not necessarily always include height?

DH: I believe that we have after the last two ordinances, particularly the clarifying ordinance, which is what that was intended to do. I had done research into this beforehand and I knew full well that this was a clarifying ordinance, and that we were not amending or changing the comp plan. The comp plan is as it always was. Not a word has changed. What we have done is clarified that the intent of the people at the time did not include height.

CSW: And there was a referendum in 2008 that sort of backed up that claim?

DH: 86% of the voters that day said they wanted to keep the height limit at 35 feet. And I think that this last election proves that most of them still fell that way.

CSW: What is the time frame, to the best of your knowledge, on the pending lawsuits, particularly the lawsuit over the height issue?

DH: The attorneys are vague on that because no one can predict the future and what can happen between now and then on that. It is the desire of most people to end it sooner rather than later as best we can, but it has to be done in a way that is acceptable to the property owners of Dewey Beach and not just the developer. It has to be a two-sided agreement.

We have a new commissioner who has to get up to speed on all of this. So for that reason alone, I don’t see where we could come to any kind of agreement immediately, until that individual is comfortable with all that’s gone on for the last three years. We have not been able to discuss things with him before now, because you can’t discuss it with anyone who’s not a commissioner. So he is just getting started, but I have every confidence in Jim.

CSW: Can the town go bankrupt?

DH: First of all, bankruptcy is a very far, distant concern at this point. It would only happen if we lost the lawsuits. The people of Dewey Beach, some have said, they don’t even care if it does go bankrupt. They want to fight to the death, although I don’t know if that’s the best option. The other thing is that bankruptcy isn’t a disaster, even if it happened. There are many towns who go bankrupt for far worse reasons – incompetence, mismanagement, illegal activities. There’s nothing like that going on here. We’re trying to fight a genuine fight in the courts of our land. I think the thing that people need to understand is that we have only spent, as of the last report, $131,000, and most of our legal fees are being paid by the insurance company at this time. The possibility of us going bankrupt is far less than the chance of a hurricane hitting and devastating the town.

CSW: Setting aside the Ruddertowne issue for a moment, what else do you want to see happen during your term as Mayor?

DH: There are a lot of things we need to work on. I would like to see Dewey become a much more attractive town. Not that it’s not attractive now. I’d like to see more in terms of beautification. We started street cleaning this year, but still, I’d like to see less trash. Even though the streets are cleaned once a week, some of our visitors are very inconsiderate. When you walk down the street on a Sunday morning and see pizza boxes on Route One and cigarette butts all over the place, it can be frustrating.

So, I think that’s an area I think we can continue to work on. I would also like to look into, and the Town Manager and I have discussed this, into the possibility of a town-wide trash service. Now we have two or three companies that haul trash, and so, in the summer, with all the traffic and the parking problems that we have, we’ve got the trucks coming through on every street. I also think it might be almost mandatory because of the recycling requirements that are coming.

Another thing I’d like to do is a survey of the people of Dewey Beach to find out exactly what they do want. Their priorities will become my priorities. I know what they don’t want at Ruddertowne. I want to know what they do want there. And that will help us move forward.

Comments on this entry are closed.

[CoastalSussex] on Twitter[Coastal Sussex] on Facebook[Our] RSS Feed[Our] Email