Residents raise Ruddertowne traffic, flooding concernsState, county officials respond to queries over Dewey Beach redevelopment
Dewey Beach — State and county officials say Ruddertowne is abreast on all requirements for construction. Developer Dewey Beach Enterprises is redeveloping Ruddertowne into a 45.67-foot mixed-use building, which will include condominiums, a Hyatt hotel, restaurants and retail shops.
About 40 people attended a question-and-answer session at Dewey Beach Life Saving Station concerning reconstruction at Ruddertowne. Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, invited representatives of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Delaware Department of Transportation and Sussex County to clarify the state and county's role in overseeing the project.
"I'm proud of the fact that we have a project going on across the street that's putting people to work," Lopez said. "That being said, I know there are some concerns."
Property owner Betsy Damos said, "I'm happy to see people at work also." But, she said, some citizens still do not like that the project does not comply with town zoning requirements.
After a years-long legal battle, Dewey Beach Town Council and DBE signed a mutual agreement and release, which dropped several pending lawsuits against the town and allowed the developer to reconstruct 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.
Lopez asked audience members to field questions that focused on the future of Ruddertowne. "We're not here to rehash the past," he said. "We are moving forward on this project."
According to the agreement, DBE will provide certain public amenities to the town, including a convention center, dedicated town space and a 16-foot boardwalk along the bay, which requires a permit from DNREC. In its application for a permit, DBE also asked to extend the beach on the bayside of Van Dyke Avenue.
Virgil Holmes, of DNREC, said Secretary Collin O'Mara would decide whether to issue the permit based on DBE's application and public testimony from a Feb. 8 public hearing, which was held at Ruddertowne. At the hearing, most residents testified in favor of the baywalk, but opinions were mixed on the beach extension.
Damos said she was worried DBE would use the public baywalk and beach as a patron service area.
Holmes said, if O’Mara approves the permit, it would specify the dimensions of the baywalk and beach extension. "The public access would be completely independent of any seating area," Holmes said. He said it would be DNREC's job to ensure the project complies with the permit.
CPD member Marcia Schieck asked what each agency requires of DBE.
Marc Cote, of DelDOT, said the project does not fall within his department's jurisdiction. "The actual access for the Ruddertowne project is off of a town street and not a DelDOT-maintained street," he said.
Cote said the town could request a traffic impact study, which the developer would have to hire an engineer to perform. He said DelDOT would then review the study and issue recommendations. He said the studies take about six months and are usually performed as part of the initial permitting process. He said it would be unusual for a traffic impact study to be done at this point.
Property owner Don Gritti said a traffic study should be required for the project. "Dewey Beach is a bottleneck for traffic," he said. "For DelDOT to let that go back and not take an involvement, I think, would be very unfortunate."
Mike Powell, of DNREC, said it is the town's responsibility to ensure the building is safe from flooding.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency established a flood plain level for the area that is six to seven feet above mean sea level, Powell said. Hotel rooms, shops and restaurants in Ruddertowne would be located above the 100-year flood level and a parking lot would occupy the lower level.
Dewey Beach Commissioner Courtney Riordan asked if any agency regulated stormwater runoff and drainage around the project.
"In Delaware, there are no state-level drainage regulations," Powell said. He said some municipalities have adopted their own stormwater regulations.
"Projects this large exceed a threshold where they would be reviewed by the Sussex Conservation District," Powell said. Scott Figurski, of DNREC, said the conservation district has performed multiple inspections of the Ruddertowne project.
Hal Godwin, assistant administrator for Sussex County, said the town issued a letter of approval to the county, and the county issued a permit for DBE to construct the building.
After electric and plumbing inspections are performed by the state, Godwin said, the county would perform a final inspection, and then issue a certificate of occupancy.
Andy Wright, a representative of Sussex County, said a third-party engineering firm has performed multiple building inspections, which are part of public record at Sussex County administrative offices in Georgetown.
Wright said many of the residents’ questions should be directed to Dewey Beach's building inspector. "Bill Mears would probably be able to answer and express the role the town plays," he said.
Mears did not attend the meeting.