Could be on Council
Agenda This Month
NOTE: Sussex Beat is a mix of news, analysis and commentary by Eric Magill, publisher of Sussex County Online.
Sussex County Councilman George Cole hopes to put the rezoning request of Freeman Communities for its controversial Americana Bayside development on council's agenda sometime in June.
Cole said he is still trying to convince a couple of other councilmen to reject the Planning & Zoning Commission's recommendation to rezone the property to allow the construction of 2,200 homes plus a golf course, shops, a 100-room hotel and a 35,000-square foot assisted living facility on 865 acres off Route 54 west of Fenwick Island.
For the sake of quality of life in the coastal region, we hope Cole is successful in convincing the other council members to deny the application.
Freeman Communities originally requested rezoning that would allow 2,900 homes to be built. Freeman said it could already build 1,900 homes on the site under current zoning but Cole said the company's original conceptual plan showed only 950 homes and did not include a golf course or commercial facilities.
With the golf course and commercial facilities, Cole said Freeman could likely only build 600 homes on the site, which is bordered by wetlands and the Assawoman Bay.
The proposed development, in Cole's district, has drawn a flurry of objections and criticisms from local residents and state legislators who correctly point out that the designated site, off overcrowded Route 54 and bordered by wetlands, is not the place for the creation of what would be the largest town in the county in summer and one of the largest in the off-season.
"In my opinion, that would be a superior plan," said Cole of a development of less than 1,000 homes. "It does not create a small town, and not many people want to see another small town created. It's amazing the impact of what they want to go to from what is permitted today."
Another drawback to approval of the rezoning is the ire it would draw from state officials, Cole said. "The downside of approving something there that is deemed to be excessive is it will result in a flurry of activity in Dover with bills directed at Sussex County," Cole said.
We've already seen that, with state legislators introducting unconstitutional bills that would force developers to pay for state infrastructure improvements.
We've said it before and will say it again: a development the size of Freeman's proposal is not needed, nor desirable, for the coastal resorts.
Sure, the market will support it, but the natural resources of our coastal region will not.
Already, Fenwick Island and Fenwick Island State Park, the resources that would be most affected by Americana Bayside, are overcrowded in summer, with cars parked on the shoulder of Route 1 waiting to get into the park. Our waterways are just as overcrowded.
Improving the infrastructure will not change those facts and will, in fact, further deteriorate the quality of life in the area. We've already seen that in Rehoboth and Lewes, where continued infrastructure improvements to roadways have done absolutely nothing to relieve the congestion there.
Route 1 has been widened twice in the past 30 years in that area, but instead of reducing congestion and improving quality of life, it simply encouraged over-development in inland communities that made the infrastructure improvements obsolete in a matter of years and caused even greater congestion than before.
It is time for county council to put some teeth in our zoning laws and send a message to developers that if you buy a property, you better be satisfied with building what is allowed there.
Freeman Communities can build a perfectly good development under current zoning of its Americana Bayside property, giving its employees plenty of work, giving local construction businesses already overwhelmed by the amount of work in the area plenty of work, helping the local economy grow at a steady clip, and putting plenty of money in Freeman's pockets.
At the same time, it wouldn't overwhelm the Fenwick area and destroy the quality of life that so many year-round residents and vacationers enjoy there.
To council president Lynn Rogers and council members Dale Dukes, Finley Jones and Vance Phillips, we say listen to George Cole's constituents, reject Freeman Communities' rezoning request, and send a message to developers across this county: we have plenty of opportunities for development under existing zonings -- be satisfied with them.
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