Sussex County Delaware

Selling It ... or
Giving It Away?
Sussex Snapshots --April 24, 2003

SC Online Editor

NOTE: Kerin Magill is Content Editor of Sussex County Online. Her column, "Sussex Snapshots", appears regularly on this site.

Kerin Magill, Sussex County Online

There's a bumper sticker that's cropped up in these parts that seems to have hit quite a nerve.

No, I'm not talking about "Ban Ruth Ann" -- which I've heard are gracing quite a few STATE employee's cars lately -- or those annoying "My Child is an Honor Student at Such and Such School" stickers.

These stickers -- which have appeared in places like the Bethany Beach Post Office -- where a friend of mine told me he snagged the last one -- carry this message: Sussex County: We Sell Quality of Life For Real Estate Profits.

Exactly who is producing the stickers seems to be a mystery -- we've checked with several of "the usual suspects" -- the frequent and vocal opponents to rampant development in our county -- and none have claimed responsibility. Everyone we've asked says "No, it wasn't me -- but I want one!"

Anyone who's watched a County Council meeting or a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting in the past six months knows that both bodies have had their hands full with requests from developers to allow more and more "second-home" type projects to be built on the eastern side of the county.

We're certainly not the only areas in the country dealing with these issues. In a February 1996 National Geographic article, a man in northern Michigan lamented the development explosion there. "We just wanted people to come up here for a weekend," said Michael Stifler of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. "But now they're staying for the rest of their lives."

The subject of the National Geographic article, by the way, was runoff -- from roads, residential areas and farms, and its effect on the environment.

Whether it's in the remaining open land between Long Neck and Oak Orchard or the quickly disappearing farmland west of Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, the projects seem to follow a pattern -- each one is bigger and more grandiose than the last.

So many developers claim their developments will be so all-inclusive, so extraordinary, that its residents won't have to leave it once they arrive from Pennsylvania, from Washington, D.C. or wherever. Apparently, these folks have figured out how to move the ocean inland about 10 miles. Scientists DO tell us the coast is moving west -- but not nearly that fast. Some try to fake us out with palm trees and fountains at their gates -- as if buyers will actually think they're in Palm Beach, not Ocean View.

Further, they claim there will be absolutely no effect on traffic, on the environment, on how much space is left on the beaches, on sewer capacity, etc. Those of us who live east of Route 113 know otherwise.

The only area they're probably right in assuming little or no effect is on the schools -- since the target market seems to be the "retirement or moving toward retirement" crowd.

Back to the the bumper sticker. Let's take the message apart for a moment. First, I question whether we're actually SELLING our quality of life. Seems to me more like we're giving it away. Developers here don't have to pay "impact fees" in Sussex County like they do in many other parts of the country. They do sometimes need to hire "experts" to convince county officials their projects won't increase traffic, degrade water quality, etc. -- and it's amazing how successful they often are at it, while the rest of us are left scratching our heads in wonder.

Increasingly, we wonder when it's going to stop -- and whether Sussex County will still be a place where we want to live. We wonder if it'll all look like just another suburban jungle -- filled with cookie cutter developments and strip shopping centers. Drive around the outskirts of Ocean View -- and head west from Fenwick Island -- and you'll see it happening already.

Developers and their attorneys are so used to getting what they want that on the rare occasion they don't get it, they start sounding like spoiled children. "But the area NEEDS this development," they'll whine. And they NEED the development to be 1,200 homes." Why? So they can make the maximum profit off the land, of course. No other reason.

Selling quality of life? Nah. We're giving it away.

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