Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- September 10-23, 2006

This page includes posts from September 10-23, 2006 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

September 20, 2006
Not as neighborly as you might expect

Little beach towns like Fenwick Island, Delaware have to fit an awful lot into a small space.

The main north-south route through town is only one block west from the ocean, and only a few blocks east of Little Assawoman Bay. So when the town was first laid out, the folks doing the planning kept most of the lots as small as possible.

For a long time, the seasonal beach cottages were equally tiny, usually a single story rancher with the ubiquitous outside shower.

More recently, however, there's been a trend to remove the little old bungalows and replace them with far larger homes, like this one:

There's probably less than 10 feet of side-yard space on either side of this McMansion. If that seems a bit crowded, bear in mind that you can see the Atlantic Ocean on the right side of this house as you're viewing it, from the third floor deck.

Almost all of the commercial property in Fenwick is limited to the first property lot on either side of Route One, with the residential properties butting up against the commercial lots on the other side.

For example, a convenience store has been at this Fenwick location since 1980:

The store sits just west of the McMansion in the first picture. Here's how these two properties are situated, relative to each other:

The convenience store was expanded in 1999, three years after some folks built that McMansion. The store improvements included the new air conditioning compressors you can see on the store roof. At first, these exhaust fans were aimed in the opposite direction. After the homeowners complained, however, the store operators re-set the air units 180 degrees, to help reduce the noise.

The homeowners remained unsatisfied about this and other problems they had with the store operation, such as the lighting in the parking lot, the garbage disposal arrangements, and other issues. After first complaining to town officials, the homeowners sued the convenience store in Chancery Court. They sought a mandatory injunction to force even more changes in the store's air conditioning system, to reduce or eliminate the noise they could hear from their upper-story decks.

Chancery Court Master Sam Glasscock heard the case, and issued his final report after trial on September 6.

As he saw it, the homeowners couldn't overcome some basic facts in attempting to prove a significant private nuisance existed, warranting the unusual relief they sought:

There is nothing in the evidence suggesting that it is unusual for a grocery store of the type operated by the defendant to locate its refrigeration and air conditioning compressors on the roof. There is nothing in the record to indicate that this particular equipment is unusually loud for the type of grocery operation which the defendant maintains on its property, and, indeed, the evidence is that the defendant has taken those steps available to it at minimal cost to minimize noise (that is, rotating the compressors so that they discharge away from the plaintiffs’ property and applying sound-deadening foam to the shrouds around the equipment).

He also noted that the store owners looked at other solutions in an effort to placate the neighbors, but they had their limits. For example, a sound-deadening parapet wall attached to the roof would have cost an estimated $40,000 to put in place, and they decided not to go ahead with that idea:

Royal Farms strongly disputes that the project was shelved because of price alone, and points out that it had no assurance that the wall contemplated would reduce compressor noise to a level acceptable to the [Plaintiffs].

Master Glasscock then gave the parties a short lesson in beach town real estate economics:

The [Plaintiffs] have a beautiful home with a number of unique amenities, including a view of the Atlantic Ocean. There are other characteristics of [their] lot which are not so positive, however. It is on the boundary between a commercial and residential area. It is a small lot, meaning that construction must necessarily closely abut that transitional line. The adjoining commercial lot is, and was at the time the {Plaintiffs’] house was constructed, occupied by a convenience store-type grocery, with all the late hours, noise, lights and traffic incumbent in such an operation. Finally, the [Plaintiffs'] lot is separated by only one lot from, and overlooks, a busy commercial highway. All of these attributes were known by the [Plaintiffs] when they bought their property and surely affected the market value of that lot.

From that point, his conclusion was not exactly difficult to foresee:

Having visited the ... home and stood on the outdoor decks, I find that the noise from the Royal Farms compressors is loud and annoying. The decks, while not unusable, would certainly be a more pleasant and relaxing place in silence than they are at present. I note, however, that the Royal Farms Store is being operated in a commercial zone adjacent to a busy commercial highway, and that nothing in the record indicates that its method of operation is anything other than typical for the operation of a “convenience” grocery. That is, the annoyance and loss of function experienced by the [Plaintiffs] is that which one must anticipate in purchasing a lot and constructing a residence adjacent to a commercial site. I do not find that the actions of Royal Farms in maintaining its compressor units, oriented as they are to direct sound toward the highway and operating in support of a business which is typical of the commercial strip in which it is located, to be unreasonable.

The Master also pointed out that the Plaintiffs had another solution available to them--if they were so inclined:

At trial, [they] argued that the diminution in their property value substantially outweighs the costs of ameliorating the buzzing of the compressors [note omitted]. If that is the case, surely there is a market solution to the [Plaintiffs’] problem, if not a legal one. I encourage the parties to work together to make such a solution possible.

I'm all for negotiated solutions, but in this case, the Defendants might have a legitimate basis for now insisting on more from the Plaintiffs than an offer to pay the costs of additional noise-reduction options that may exist. After all, that option was available to the Plaintiffs before they filed their lawsuit.

Therefore, I could certainly understand it if the store owners suggested that the Plaintiffs should also contribute toward their court costs and attorneys' fees for this lawsuit.

Under the circumstances, that would be the neighborly thing to do.

September 17, 2006
Another message sent

When I last wrote about The Town of Dewey Beach, the discussion centered upon a nasty little dispute about the town’s adherence to the democratic process.

Some folks sued the Town because they didn’t like a new ordinance that permitted the conversion of motels and hotels into condominiums.

They didn’t bother to wait until they were actually affected by a proposed conversion, mind you. They just sued the town, apparently on the theory that there simply must be something inequitable or illegal about the new law, and therefore the Chancery Court would surely strike it down.

Here’s a portion of what I wrote about the case last July:

After reviewing the Complaint, Vice-Chancellor John Noble agreed [with the suggestion that the Plaintiffs had no standing to bring the suit]:

[S]tanding cannot be premised on a merely abstract desire to ensure municipal obedience to the law. Indeed, the Plaintiffs have set forth almost precisely the type of generalized grievance that constitutes the classic example of a harm that will not, by itself, confer standing—i.e., a “common concern for obedience to the law.” [note omitted] Furthermore, they have failed to identify any “concrete and particularized injury.” [note omitted] Because the Plaintiffs have not met the threshold requirement of demonstrating standing, their claims must be dismissed.

Noble added the following in a footnote:

Their failure is not merely one of proof—such as relying on unverified allegations. Instead, their articulated interests are fairly characterized as political, and only political, in nature. In this context, generalized references to “density” or “quality of life,” without more, are not specific enough and do not adequately inform the Court of the consequences that would support judicial intervention into the municipal political process.

As noted in that post, the plaintiffs’ attorney happened to be the town’s mayor, Courtney Riordan. Apparently some of his allies decided that he would be the perfect lawyer to carry their legislative fight into the courts.

They chose poorly, as was noted in a very different context.

One of the private businesses involved in the suit said they were going to try to collect attorney’s fees and costs from the mayor and his clients, which was the main topic of the July post. I haven’t found out yet whether the Court agreed to this request—although I doubt it would be granted.

On the other hand, Dewey’s citizens decided to send a different message to Mayor Riordan this past week—a signal that was not only legally acceptable but also perfectly understandable under the circumstances.

They voted him out:

Voters handed Mayor Courtney Riordan a stunning defeat Saturday, booting him from the Town Commission and electing two candidates who are expected to continue to let the good times roll -- within reason -- in the resort town.

In an unprecedented voter turnout that included 821 absentee ballots, incumbent Dale H. Cooke scored 888 votes to retain his seat.

Dewey Beach native and political newcomer Claire Walsh took 802 votes, Riordan was a distant third with 424 votes, while Suzanne Evans trailed with 211 votes.

"It's 2-to-1 -- it means, let's get back to the table [with the business community] and get along," Walsh said moments after the results were posted on the door of the town office. "I'm just tickled pink."

Good for them, and maybe good for the town.

Dewey Beach has a few problems facing it, not least of which because of the unusual decision to avoid adopting a property tax as one of the basic revenue elements to support the town. Instead, since its creation 25 years ago, the little hamlet has gotten by largely on an odd mix of parking meter revenues, business fees, police fines, and real estate transfer taxes.

Note that most of that money comes from visitors and new property owners, and not those who were property owners when the Town was created. How convenient--except that now some of those alternative revenue streams are running a little lower than expected.

Among the odd things about this state of affairs is the fact that police protection for the largely residential municipality was a prime reason for the Town’s creation—and yet, the residential property owners contribute nearly nothing toward the substantial costs of protection against burglaries and other property crimes.

Riordan’s anti-business antics weren’t the most hopeful signs that this state of affairs would change anytime soon. Perhaps the new leadership will be a bit more clear-eyed about the Town’s real long-term issues, and be more inclined to ask more of its residents to share in the responsibility to pay for their own government.

September 16, 2006
A New Link for the Movies

Rob Rector is a witty, sharp, family guy with a wide range of interests.

He is an English instructor at Delaware Technical & Community College in Georgetown; a kayak guide at Quest Fitness/Kayak in Lewes, and the movie reviewer for The Cape Gazette.

He’s also a fellow board member, and a founding one at that, of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society.

Rector recently started his own website, where you can read his current and past movie reviews.

So go there, already.

I’m also putting up a separate link to Rector’s site, Use Soap, on the Home Page, just below the regular blogroll.

Perhaps someday I'll even ask him what that title means.

September 16, 2006
Shameless promotion

Blogging's been a bit light here again this week, but it's not like I haven't been writing.

This morning I posted my newest golf book review at

Confessions of a Sandbagger has an intriguing set-up, in a cautionary tale about the consequences of being less than sportsmanlike while playing golf.

In addition, here are the links to the last three golf columns:

Routine golf can be anything but
September 15, 2006

Golf course lumberjacks needed after Ernesto
September 8, 2006

Cape Region profiles--Frank Abbott
September 1, 2006

September 11, 2006
Rough but slow day on the stand

Hurricane Florence's effects are already appearing here on Delmarva, with a heavy surf advisory continuing through at least tomorrow morning.

It's made for a rough but slow day for the few remaining lifeguards on duty at Rehoboth Beach. There's not much for them to do except to bundle up against the chill and sit there:

The occasional daring tourists walk down to the water's edge, but the guards whistle and point until the visitors get the hint and leave the surf.

September 11, 2006
Fifth year

I didn't start this blog site until some months after the terrorists jet-bombed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

As of that day, I had only just recently begun reading blogs such as Glenn Reynolds' new Instapundit, adding it to my regular reading list of other sites such as James Lileks's Bleats.

So after I returned home from work that day, and felt like I needed to write something about it, I did the next best thing and sent an email to Reynolds.

He did me the favor of reprinting the email on his blog:

About today:

I'm a deputy attorney general, and essentially act as the general
counsel for the Delaware Department of Transportation. Among other things, I've worked for several years with my counterparts in the Port Authority of NY/NJ on the EZPass project (electronic toll collection systems).

As soon as I heard of the attacks on the WTC, my thoughts went
immediately to my business friends who work for the Port Authority in
Building One. There was no way I could reach them to find out how or if they made it out safely. Then I thought of all the thousands of others,
with similar thoughts about the thousands of people they know who work or live in the same area.

The "six degrees of separation" that connect so many Americans may not be fully appreciated by those not of this country. It'll be one of the reasons we come together fairly quickly as a people to react in strong, measured ways to this newest outrage.

My office is near Dover AFB, which went to Delta level along with all
the other military bases. State employees were dismissed early, and as I drove by the base I was impressed at the line of cars of AFB staff lined up to enter the base for duty on short notice. It was obvious that many were interrupted in the middle of living their lives according to the normal peacetime routine. It was also obvious that these people know their duty and are prepared to follow through.

Some good will come of this eventually, I'm sure. It's just an awful
price to pay.

I don't have much more to add to what I wrote then, other than to say we're not yet finished responding to the Islamofascists, and we have to keep at it.


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969

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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2006