Dewey Beach Town Manager Marc Appelbaum said he sees code violations daily. At a recent meeting, Appelbaum asked council if the ordinances should be enforced.
“I’m stuck in a bad place,” he said.
Appelbaum first raised the issue in July. “I don’t want to create upheaval in town, but we have ordinances, we have resolutions that I’m not sure how you want me to enforce,” he said. “I think that we should adhere to our policies, and we haven’t in the past, and I’d like to start looking into this.”
At the July meeting, Mayor Diane Hanson said Appelbaum should enforce obvious violations, such as failing to pay the annual beach tax, and be more lax on other laws, such as Resolution 19, which condemns anti-social behavior.
At a Jan. 10 workshop, Appelbaum said he is not seeking to prosecute homeowners for petty violations. “There’s a certain amount of discretion that we try to use,” he said.
Some of the violations are affecting town finances, and enforcing some code provisions could anger property and business owners, he said.
According to town code, driveways for residential properties in Dewey Beach must be no wider than 20 feet. The code also says it is a violation to put any object that is not a vehicle in a public parking space.
Appelbaum said many driveways are not in compliance, and some property owners have placed fences, statues or other objects in public rights-of-way to keep motorists from parking in front of their houses.
About $1 million a year is generated from parking, Appelbaum said. “It is our largest source of revenue,” he said. “I just think it’s a problem right now, and we need to address it.”
In November, town council and the board of adjustment overturned separate decisions made by Appelbaum and Building Inspector Bill Mears after the officials cited two properties for code violations.
Appelbaum said when he tries to enforce certain provisions of the code he is met with resistance. “They say, ‘Nobody else is doing it. Why should I?’” he said. “The feeling is there’s no code enforcement.”
Appelbaum said if he started enforcing every provision of the code, there would be major backlash. “This is going to be a very explosive issue in our town,” he said.
Existing law could hit restaurant profits
Many restaurants are also violating town code, Appelbaum said.
According to the code, in restaurants with 35 seats or more, 80 percent of the patron area must be committed to dining and 20 percent may be allotted for a bar. Customers may not consume alcohol without food unless they are in the bar area, the code says.
Appelbaum said many restaurants are grandfathered, such as Lighthouse, Rusty Rudder and Bottle and Cork, and the code does not apply. Other restaurants violate this provision of the code nightly by moving dining tables to make the bar area larger, or allowing bar patrons to use the dining area without eating, he said.
“This will change the nature of some of these businesses,” Appelbaum said. “I don’t think many of them are paying attention to this.
Appelbaum said if he enforces the 80-20 rule, restaurants could be left empty in the late night hours, causing the business to lose money. “After 11 p.m., most people don’t want to eat,” he said. “Is this the intent of what you all want?” he asked.
Mayor Diane Hanson said council could consider expanding the bar area to keep late-night restaurants in compliance.
Commissioner Courtney Riordan said town code used to stipulate only 65 percent of the restaurant had to be reserved for dining space. He said a former council changed the requirement because it wanted to curb excessive drinking.
Town Hall receives five to 10 complaints a week from citizens who report suspected code violations, Appelbaum said. “I don’t look for fights,” he said. “But when I get complaints, I need to respond.”
Appelbaum asked town council whether he should enforce obvious code violations or leave it to council to modify or discuss the existing laws. “Please give this some thought,” he said.