Officials debate amendments to Dewey Comp Plan

Planning commission: Close height loopholes
Dewey officials are trying to close loopholes in the town's comprehensive plan that would allow future challenges to the town's 35-foot height limit.  The town signed an agreement with Ruddertowne developer Dewey Beach Enterprises, which allowed them to build a 45-foot structure on the site. BY NICK ROTH
January 14, 2013

Dewey officials say the town’s comprehensive plan must be clarified to prevent possible challenges to the town’s height limit and overdevelopment in residential zoning districts.

The original plan, adopted in 2007, was subject to a review in 2012 that is now ongoing. The Office of State Planning requires a full update in 2017.

At a Jan. 5 town meeting, Commissioner Gary Mauler, a former member of the planning commission, said the town has three options: Review the plan, amend the plan or update the plan completely.

The Planning Commission recommendation calls for amending the plan; the most notable amendments aim to close loopholes that would allow future challenges to the town’s 35-foot height limit.

In August, the commission voted to allow land-use attorney John Paradee to reword the plan to clarify of the meaning of “relaxed bulk standards” for the Ruddertowne zoning district.

The debate over bulk standards goes back to 2010, when town council passed an ordinance to clarify “relaxed bulk standards” does not include exceeding the town’s 35-foot height limit.  Ruddertowne developer Dewey Beach Enterprises challenged the ordinance in court – but the challenge was never resolved because the town signed an agreement with DBE, in February 2011, allowing the developer to build a 45-foot structure at the Ruddertowne site.

Commissioner Joy Howell said she wants to fix the comprehensive plan to protect the town from future land-use litigation.

Property owner Ellen Danaher argued the ordinance, written and proposed by the planning commission, does not include certain recommendations made by Paradee. “My goals…are to protect the town, to protect the people’s properties, to prevent unwanted development,” she said.

The ordinance to amend the plan says, “relaxed bulks standards shall not include height, it being the intention of this comprehensive plan to retain, in any and all event, a 35-foot limit upon the height of all buildings and structures throughout the town.”

Danaher said Paradee recommended including the 35-foot height limit applies “despite any pre-existing exceptions.”

Danaher also said there were majority opinions in the citizen survey that were not reflected in the original comprehensive plan.  For example, she said, 80 percent of those surveyed before the original comprehensive plan was adopted opposed high density in residential areas.

The existing plan says,  “It is the goal of this comprehensive plan to encourage the commercial and residential use of contiguous tracks of at least 80,000 square feet.”

David Mills, a homeowner on Carolina Street, said Rehoboth By the Sea, which owns much of the property on the north end of Dewey Beach, is the only entity that could connect lots to build an 80,000-square-foot residential structure.

Planning Commission Chairman Harry Wilson said he has reached out to Rehoboth By the Sea numerous times and asked its representatives to attend town meetings.  “I don’t see them here,” he said.

Wilson said when he last spoke to representatives of Rehoboth By the Sea, they said they were willing to sell residential lots in Dewey Beach.

Commissioner Joy Howell said she wanted to hear from residents who were in favor of a full update, rather than an amendment.  “There are people who think we should go further,” she said. 
When no one offered testimony, Howell said, “So there’s no one here who wants to speak on that right now?”

Danaher said, “I think the residential zones are vulnerable to development.” She said council should ask Paradee what the town could do to protect residential zones.

Property owner Graham Smith said a full review is a two-year process and would cost the town significantly more money than an amendment.  “I don’t see it as being a viable option at this point,” he said.

Mayor Diane Hanson said by the time the town conducts another citizen survey a few years will have passed anyway.  She said the town should pass the amendments and fix loopholes in the plan temporarily; then the planning commission can focus on a complete update.

Legates said she and Mauler would take a list of questions to Paradee, who did not attend the meeting, before the ordinance is approved.