Code enforcement loses again in Dewey Beach
Code enforcement lost again at the recent hearing regarding 114 Chesapeake St in Dewey Beach. At the hearing on Saturday November 9th, we had the owners of the property, one of whom is a founder of Citizens to Preserve Dewey, and the other, an ex Dewey Beach commissioner, opposing the towns position that they were in violation of the zoning code. In fighting the towns decision to suspend their rental license for violating set back requirements for their fence and pool, their attorneys advocated a position that means as long as one has a swimming pool they are allowed to build a fence of any height up to 35' right up to the front property line. Yes, as unbelievable as it seems the legal position advocated by the attorney for one of the co founders of CPD can result in fences in front yards being allowed up to 35' in height.
Naively we assumed the commissioners would reject this contention as absurd, support the town staff and town manager, and thereby enforce the towns reasonable restriction on fences to 3.5' in the front yard. Instead we had one commissioner state that he did not consider this zoning violation a big deal. Another commissioner stated he wasn't clear what the definition of a swimming pool was. None of the commissioners bothered to ask the town manager or code enforcement officer the reason for their decision.
There was very limited questioning by all the commissioners with zero questions asked of town staff who made the decision. Net of the meeting was the commissioners voted 4-0 to allow the rental license to be reinstated (the mayor abstained).
Many in the audience were dismayed, as the code in question was clearly on display and anybody reading it could see the clear language allowing fences to be only 3.5' high in front yards. Did the commissioners stop to think that the result of this decision is they allowed a property to be rented with zero legal parking spaces?
Code enforcement includes more than just zoning and fences, it involves many important quality of life issues such as noise for the citizens of Dewey Beach. In the past it has been the town against deep pocketed bars and developers. This time it was the town against a co-founder of CPD (with a giant email list) and an ex-commissioner.
So who can we rely on to enforce the code?
The town manager tried to enforce the code on a matter that was pretty clear and was not supported by the commissioners so how can we expect the town staff to keep trying? We can't count on groups like CPD, when a co-founder's legal strategy relies on contending that 35' high pool fences are allowed by the code? And we can't rely on the commissioners either when powerful interests use dubious legal arguments and then win the vote.
Sadly all we see is that anyone with the money and influence to hire a legal team and bombard the town with letters gets their way. Whether they be CPD, the bars, or a developer.
CPD has now sent an email blast saying the owners have been vindicated. So does CPD stand for allowing houses to be modified and have no parking? Do they stand for fences of any height in front yards? We think it is time the people of Dewey start to realize that perhaps CPD's objectives are self serving and are not in alignment with what the vast majority of residents want.
Meanwhile, the 90+% of residents who respect the towns laws have to deal with the ill effects of those who bully and buy their way to increased profit.
Who is on the side of those of us who respect the rules?