The fate of certain proposed public access areas in Dewey Beach lies in the hands of a state agency.
Representatives of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control held a public hearing at The Cove in Dewey Beach to hear public feedback on amenities planned for Ruddertowne. DNREC Hearing Officer Robert Haynes moderated the event, which drew a crowd of about 60 people.
Nearly everyone who testified spoke in favor of a proposed public baywalk, while a proposed extension to the beach on the bayside of Van Dyke Avenue drew a mixed response.
Ruddertowne developer Dewey Beach Enterprises and the town of Dewey Beach signed an agreement in February 2011 related to redevelopment of the Ruddertowne site, which includes a boardwalk along the bay.
DBE must have DNREC approval before it can build the baywalk. In its October 2012 application to DNREC, DBE also asked to extend the beach on the bayside of Van Dyke Avenue and build a 24-slip public marina, where visitors could dock their boats for the day.
The developer filed an amended application Jan. 15 that does not include the marina. Evelyn Maurmeyer, of Lewes environmental consulting firm Coastal Marine Estuarine Research, said at the Feb. 8 hearing DBE took the marina off the table in response to public feedback.
She said DBE also increased the width of the proposed baywalk from 8 feet to 16 feet.
The proposed beach extension remained on the application, though it was not part of the agreement between the town and the developer.
Maurmeyer said the shoreline at Van Dyke Avenue has eroded over the years, and DBE intends to restore the beach to what it likely looked like 50 years ago.
Maurmeyer said the beach extension would include outfall pipes to prevent flooding, and the project would not cause bayside flooding to other streets in town. She also said the extension would have no impact on surrounding wetlands.
Homeowner Betsy Damos, who was the first person to testify at the hearing, said she was concerned DBE would use the beach extension as a service area for one of the restaurants at Ruddertowne. In the summer season, she said, the beach is crowded with tables and chairs from Que Pasa. “I’m afraid more of that will happen,” she said.
Property owner Marcia Schieck was opposed to redevelopment at the Ruddertowne site before the town signed the mutual agreement and release with DBE. “This developer sued the town into submission,” she testified. “In that submission, the MAR was entered into...I just hope you will take that into perspective,” she said.
Schieck said she supports the baywalk, but she also fears DBE would use the public beach and baywalk for commercial use. “I think a public beach would be wonderful if it is truly public,” she said.
Former Commissioner Zeke Przygocki, who was on council in 2011 and voted in favor of the agreement, said he supported DBE’s application to DNREC. In response to Schieck's comments, he said, “We were never held hostage to the MAR or to lawsuits.”
Elissa Feldman testified on behalf of Citizens to Preserve Dewey, which Feldman said formed to oppose the mixed-use development at Ruddertowne. She said the outfall pipe extension should be delayed until the town infrastructure committee finishes its master stormwater plan to address bayside flooding throughout town.
Feldman said the group supports a 16-foot wide baywalk, but it was opposed to the marina. Feldman said the status of DBE’s October application is unclear, and CPD fears the marina is not truly off the table.
Other members of the audience said they liked the idea of a public marina and wanted to know why it was removed from the application.
“I’m sad to see that the pier isn’t going to be constructed,” said resident Graham Smith, who testified in favor of DBE’s application. “There’s a distinct lack of public pier space in Dewey Beach.”
Of the marina, resident David Thomas said, “I’m sorry to have seen that lost.” He said, “I hope the day will come quickly that we can get it back.”
Resident Claire Walsh, who testified in favor of the application, said she was also disappointed to see the marina removed from the application. She said a public docking place could cut down on traffic during the summer.
Local business owners also testified in favor of DBE’s application.
Chris Redefer, owner of Rehoboth Bay Marina in Dewey Beach, said since DBE bought the Ruddertowne site, the developer has kept the area clean and well maintained. “I think at the end of the day, what the plan is with the public access would be a huge benefit to this area,” he said.
Sonia Koplowicz and David Green, owner of Cape Water Taxi, testified in favor of the application. “Is the pier and marina absolutely off the table?” Koplowicz asked.
“Things can change,” Haynes said.
Carol Everhart, president of Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, testified in favor of the application. She said, for 20 years, Dewey Beach officials have said they want an attraction that would make the town more popular with families. “This project can only encourage longer stays, extend the season, broaden the visitor base,” she said.
Thomas Harvey, DBE partner and president of Harvey Hanna Associates, said the town would be proud of the project. “I assure you, we will do a great job with this,” he said.
Commissioner Anna Legates said she was concerned with the environmental impact of the project, and she asked that DNREC make public any environmental impact studies of the baywalk and beach extension.
Legates said the town already faces bayside flooding, stormwater drainage issues and sea-level rise. “You have to put the environment first and construction second,” she said.
Mayor Diane Hanson, who was the only member of town council to vote against the agreement with DBE in 2011, testified in favor of the 16-foot baywalk.
Commissioner Joy Howell, a former member of CPD who frequently spoke against the 2011 agreement, also testified in favor of the 16-foot baywalk. She asked if DNREC could require DBE to provide signage to ensure the beach at Van Dyke Avenue remains public and is not used commercially.
Haynes said DNREC could only approve, deny or place conditions on DBE’s application; he would not say whether the agency would require signage.
Haynes said DNREC Secretary Colin O’Mara will make the final decision on DBE’s application; his decision will be posted on DNREC’s website at dnrec.delaware.gov. Haynes did not say when the decision would be made.