CPD members file FOIA for Ruddertowne communicationIs town hiding negotiations with developer?
Dewey Beach — A group of Dewey Beach property owners say the town is hiding information about the Ruddertowne project, and two women are taking steps to investigate.
Citizens to Preserve Dewey members Marcia Schieck and Elissa Feldman filed an April 19 Freedom of Information Act request for all communication between Dewey Beach officials about redevelopment at Ruddertowne and an agreement that allowed construction to begin.
“I don’t think there’s anything specific we’re looking for,” Feldman said. “We just feel like citizens have been shut out of the process.”
In February 2011, Dewey Beach Town Council and Ruddertowne developer Dewey Beach Enterprises signed a mutual agreement and release, which dropped several pending lawsuits against the town and allowed the developer to build Ruddertowne in excess of the townwide 35-foot height limit.
Some residents, including volunteer group Citizens to Preserve Dewey, testified against the agreement, saying the town was being sued into submission.
Since the MAR was signed, CPD members have supported efforts to overturn the agreement. Schieck and CPD co-founder Joan Claybrook co-chaired the Dewey Defense Fundraising Committee in November 2011 asking for financial support for a lawsuit filed by four property owners aimed at invalidating the agreement.
Meanwhile, construction of the mixed-use development at Ruddertowne continues to make headway. On April 25, the developer applied for a liquor license for the hotel rising on site.
In December, members of town council – who were all endorsed by CPD when they were elected – voted to hire Remington, Vernick and Beach Engineers of Newark to oversee construction at the Ruddertowne site, using funds from DBE’s building permit money. Town Manager Marc Appelbaum pledged to give monthly updates about the redevelopment at town meetings.
Town officials also added a page to the town website dedicated to information related to the Ruddertowne project. The page contains links to building plans, state agency notices and statements from town officials and can be found at www.townofdeweybeach.com/Ruddertowne-Project.
Feldman said the public should know more. “We’re feeling like it isn’t enough,” she said.
Feldman said she believes there have been negotiations and conversations between the town and DBE that are being hidden from the public. “We feel like this should be a transparent process,” she said.
Feldman said it took months to gain access to a letter sent to DBE from Town Manager Marc Appelbaum in which Appelbaum asked several questions about the project. “We have to beg to get the letter he sent to DBE,” Feldman said. “And we never see the response.”
“This is all supposed to be done in a publicly accessible way,” she said. “It’s just a source of frustration.”
Appelbaum said he regularly receives FOIA requests. “Nine out of 10 FOIA requests do not involve our attorney,” he said. “It’s nonlegal, it’s noncontroversial – I just fulfill it.”
Since Schieck and Feldman’s request could have legal implications, Appelbaum said, he forwarded the request to Town Attorney Fred Townsend and town council. “Fred is reviewing it as we speak,” he said.
When asked if she expected a timely response from Appelbaum, Feldman said, “I don’t know. He’s been on vacation.”
Appelbaum said the town would issue a response by the May 10 deadline.