Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- September 24-October 7, 2006

This page includes posts from September 24-October 7, 2006 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

October 7, 2006
A classic Claude winner about Carper and Castle

Delaware’s statewide newspaper led off this morning with a classic Claude candidate on the top of its front page, discussing the recent efforts of two-thirds of the state's Congressional delegation:

Castle, Carper push business tax breaks

Imagine that.

Here are the not-so-startling details from the first three paragraphs:

In the past two years, Rep. Mike Castle and Sen. Tom Carper have written dozens of bills that would save a handful of Delaware companies millions of dollars on the goods they bring into this country.

Each lawmaker introduced dozens of small bills that would waive tariffs on obscure chemicals, food additives, ink-jet printers, even galoshes.

Castle, R-Del., introduced 29 bills that would suspend more than $18 million in import duty fees for four Delaware companies. Carper, D-Del., offered 63 bills that would save companies millions more. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., did not request any tariff waivers.

To keep things in perspective, one might also recall reading about Delaware’s pro-business reputation something along these lines:

The state of Delaware provides a unique and favored gateway to the U.S. marketplace. More than 500,000 corporations, limited liability companies, statutory trusts, and partnerships have been formed in Delaware. That number, however, is only part of the story. Delaware is the corporate home state for many of the largest, most successful and best-known U.S. companies. Nearly 60% of the Fortune 500 companies are organized under Delaware law. Delaware corporations also constitute more than 50% of all U.S. publicly-traded companies.

For those of us who refer to our home state as the Lichtenstein of the Mid-Atlantic, the only thing newsworthy about this story is the fact that the newspaper decided to give it such prominence.

This headline earns four Claudes.

October 5, 2006
East Side Drive

I took a short road trip this morning to check out a drainage problem my clients had handled, and on which I had previously provided legal advice.

It provided an opportunity to enjoy the early morning sun as it beamed down upon the mouth of a lagoon emptying into the north end of Rehoboth Bay:

View of Bald Eagle Lagoon, Rehoboth Bay, October 5 2006

The marsh grasses are still mostly green, although with the cool front coming in this week that will soon change.

For those interested, I've posted a larger version of this photograph here.

October 4, 2006
What he said

Nothing like a little sex scandal in Washington to bring out ever higher levels of scuzzy political opportunism masking as the moral high ground, is there?

Thus far, the best recent example (and not in a good way) is a smarmy little essay by David Corn.

I recommend Tom Maguire's response to this skeevish article, which you can read here.

What he said.

And see what Mark Kleiman had to say about a 2004 episode. He's still right.

October 2, 2006
A smart move with other people's money

With two notable exceptions, Delaware's municipalities depend upon two forms of property taxes to keep themselves running.

The first exception is the City of Wilmington. In addition to the usual property tax and the realty transfer tax, imposed at the point of sale, Wilmington also collects a wage tax from its residents and those who work there. The wage tax is now the primary source of revenue for the state's largest city, and has been for some time.

The other exception is Dewey Beach, whose current financial struggles can be traced to a decision when it was first incorporated to avoid adopting any property tax other than the realty transfer tax. This decision has lead to other problems, discussed previously at this site.

As the long-running real estate boom begins to subside in Delaware, the more farsighted cities should take steps to adjust to the economic impact of collecting a lot less property-related tax revenue than what might have been projected just a year ago.

A new proposal by an Ocean View city councilman appears to be a very smart move in dealing with other people's money.

As reported by Katie Wais of the Salisbury, Maryland Daily Times, Roy Thomas first wants to set up two reserve funds for a hunk of property tax and transfer tax revenues generated by a large golf course/real estate venture within city limits:

Both reserves would be funded through $5 million left over from transfer taxes gained through construction of Bear Trap Dunes -- the emergency reserve fund financed with $1 million of that money, plus $500 per developed lot, and the long term capital reserve fund with $825,000 plus $400 per developed lot.

Thomas would also direct that one-eighth of all future transfer taxes would be set aside for the reserve accounts. This would begin to gently move the city away from the routine use of an essentially erratic revenue source for the regular costs of city operations.

The councilman noted that 42 per cent of all city revenue now comes from the regular property tax, while a startling 41 per cent comes from the realty transfer tax. Under those circumstances, the councilman's proposal begins to sound far more radical than first imagined.

Even so, it's a great start toward reminding Ocean View residents that they can't depend forever on an endless chain of new developments and new property taxpayers to offset the costs of government. Several other Delaware beach towns could do themselves a big favor by taking a close look at this new proposal.

October 1, 2006
Coming Attractions

In several respects this is my favorite time of year for living in Rehoboth Beach.

The weather is usually great--warm during the day and cool at night.

The fishing is at its best, although so far I haven't taken advantage of that fact.

And there are the shoulder season events, especially the Jazz Festival and the Film Festival.

This year the Owens Campus of Delaware Technical & Community College is adding to the jazz offerings during the popular fall event.

Gerald Veasley and his band, with guest Kim Waters, will perform at the college's theater in the Arts & Science Center on Saturday, October 14, at 8:30 p.m. The college is also holding a special pre-show dinner beginning at 6 p.m. Reservations are required for the catered meal by October 6.

Show tickets are $48, and the proceeds benefit the College's Education Foundation. The dinner tickets are $32 each.

The Film Festival is running from November 8-12 this year. The opening night gala showing is at the Rehoboth Convention Center on Wednesday evening, with the Festival itself at its usual location at the Movies at Midway. The festival program should soon be delivered, well in time for RBFS members to start planning their movie schedule for Thursday through Sunday.

In the meantime, of course, the RBFS Art House Theater continues to bring independent films to the Cape Region on a regular basis.

Quinceanera is at Theater 14 until this Thursday, October 5, with Wordplay running from October 6 through 19. The Science of Sleep then makes its Cape Region debut from October 20 through November 2.

Based on this review and this NPR segment, I'm also hoping that the folks doing the Art House Theater programming find a way to book Mike Judge's Idiocracy as soon as possible.

Maybe they can time it so that this movie begins a successful series at the Art House Theater just after Jackass Number 2 completes its current run.

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, 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.


Contact Information:

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

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