Rehoboth Beach officials have hired attorney Luke Mette to be the planning commission’s new solicitor. That’s the same Luke Mette who represented the citizen appellants during an appeal hearing last year related to the ongoing Clear Space Theatre Company issue.
Looking to separate City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas’ representative responsibilities, city commissioners agreed last fall it was time for the planning commission to have its own attorney.
In an email Feb. 18, City Manager Sharon Lynn said Mette, a partner at the Wilmington-based law firm Armstrong Teasdale, was hired in January at a rate of $275 an hour. Mette was the only attorney to respond to the city’s request, she said. There was no formal announcement made, but Mette has participated in the last two planning commission meetings.
“As cases coming before the planning commission were becoming more complex, the city decided to split counsel for the board of commissioners and planning commission, with Glenn Mandalas providing counsel for the commissioners and building and licensing department, and a new attorney serving the planning commission,” said Lynn.
Mandalas has represented the city since 2006. Clear Space wasn’t the only reason city commissioners began looking to focus Mandalas’ duties, but it served as the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mandalas was forced to represent the planning commission, not city commissioners, during the months-long appeal process.
The Clear Space issue is among a handful of development proposals that have been going on for years in Rehoboth Beach. The theatre company first introduced plans for a new home at 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave. in fall 2018. Originally proposing a one-story structure on the three lots, Clear Space revised its plans to the current two-building complex after considerable pushback from neighbors and residents.
Clear Space has twice had the current site plan approved by the planning commission. Citizens appealed the approvals, and city commissioners reversed the decisions both times. The first time, it was reversed on a technicality related to public notices. The second time, an appeal hearing was held and Mette represented the citizens during that hearing. In response to the second reversal, and with no other options at the city level, Clear Space filed a lawsuit in August in Delaware Superior Court seeking to reverse the city commissioners’ reversal.
The case is currently in a holding pattern while a judge decides what constitutes the record for the appeals. A hearing was held in early December on the issue.
It’s unclear how Mette’s hiring will affect the Clear Space submission if it comes back before the planning commission. In an email Feb. 23, Mayor Stan Mills said it’s a speculative question and unnecessary to answer at this time.
“We don’t know how or if or in what form the Clear Space application would come back to the planning commission,” said Mills. “When and if it does, I am confident that the city’s response will be appropriate.”
Mandalas was one of eight applicants for the city solicitor job when he was hired in 2006. While Mette was the only attorney to respond to the city’s solicitation this time, Mills said Mandalas wholeheartedly endorsed Mette, and the city was fortunate to get him.
“Luke is a professional and a very ethical attorney with far-reaching experience for over 30 years, including his representation for the City of Wilmington,” said Mills. He then listed off a number of Mette’s professional accolades –chief disciplinary counsel under the Delaware Supreme Court, teaches legal ethics at Delaware Law School and is a frequent speaker on the topic of lawyer ethics. “Based upon Mr. Mette’s credentials outlined above, the city is confident Mr. Mette will advise the planning commission in a way that is fair and equitable to any applicant that appears before the commission,” said Mills.
When reached for comment, Clear Space Executive Director Wesley Paulson said he did not have one, other than to say he did not know the city had hired Mette.