Defying a threatened suit by Highway One Limited Partnership, Dewey Beach Town Commissioners unanimously approved a redesign of the Dickinson Avenue parking configuration Saturday, April 12.
The new layout will reduce the center parking by 16 spots from 29. The new parking area will be landscape and lighted, with one row of parking in the middle with spots 18 feet in length and a 3-foot wide sidewalk, and a 5-foot wide sidewalk on the north side of the lot that borders the Rusty Rudder.
Highway One wanted all 29 spots eliminated.
The new layout is being proposed to improve pedestrian safety and to relieve traffic congestion from vehicles turning into the bayside parking lot from Route 1.
Bill Lower, Dewey Beach Enterprises Inc. representative, said moving the parking to the middle of the lot will also create driving lanes 18 feet wide, which will be enough space for cars to maneuver in and out, and will allow for emergency vehicle access. The company owns the Ruddertown Complex, the Lighthouse and the Hyatt Place on the south side of the lot.
Dewey Beach Police Sgt. Cliff Dempsey said congestion was a problem last summer during the construction of the Hyatt Place. He said it was his department's position that there are problems with the current plans and the goal from the police perspective is to get a space large enough for emergency vehicles.
“Looking at the plan, it will eliminate emergency vehicles problems,” he said.
The discussion of eliminating all of the parking - two lanes for a total of 29 spots - was broached during a February commissioners meeting after businesses, residents said it was too congested.
At the time, Highway One agreed to build the sidewalk on the north side of the parking lot, to reimburse the town for the first three years lost parking revenue and to work with Dewey Beach Enterprises to cover the costs of creating and then maintaining a walking island down the middle of the space.
Marc Appelbaum estimated that each spot was worth roughly $1,000 in revenue to the town, which means a loss of nearly $30,000 if both lanes were eliminated. The new plan cuts the potential revenue loss in half.
Martha Sweeney, Highway One comptroller, said during the most recent meeting the previous arrangements were agreed to under the idea that all the parking was going to be eliminated. Under the current plan, the company would not support the idea and would not contribute any funds, she said.
“While our leadership appreciates the work being done, we don't feel the safety issues are being addressed,” said Sweeney.
This news prompted Commissioner David Jasinski to ask Lower if DBE would be willing to cover the costs. After a brief phone conversation with his associates, Lower said he had been authorized to pay for the entire project.
Lower said he's disappointed that Highway One would not participate, but DBE is interested in moving forward with the project. Lower said if Highway One were so concerned with pedestrian safety, it could increase the width of the north sidewalk by using some of their property, as DBE was doing on the south side of the lot.
“DBE will be putting it's money where it's mouth is,” he said.
Sweeney then got back up and threatened the commissioners that Highway One would be filing a lawsuit to prevent the project from happening at all.
“If there's parking in the middle, we will, in the nicest way possible, be seeking relief in court,” she said.
Following the meeting, Lower said the costs of the project were still unknown, but they would be figured out during the engineering and drawing stages, which would begin almost immediately.
“We would like to have these enhancements in place on or before Memorial Day weekend, but that is contingent upon many factors, including the weather,” he said.