Proposal on Feb. 6
Finally Coming to a Vote
Council Hears Pros, Cons of Development
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After nine months, the controversial Americana Bayside project proposed by Freeman Communities will finally come to a vote.
Sussex County Council has scheduled Freeman's request to rezone 865 acres off Route 54 west of Fenwick Island to build more than 2,000 homes, a golf course and commercial shopping and office space for its Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2001 council meeting.
The issue will be discussed and voted on under Old Business at approximately 10:30 a.m.
Councilman George Cole, whose district the proposed project is in, has voiced strong opposition to the rezoning.
In articles in the Delaware State News and News-Journal over the weekend, Councilmen Finley B. Jones and Lynn Rogers said they would vote for a lower density than the 2,200 homes recommended by the county's Planning & Zoning Commission, while Councilmen Dale Dukes and Vance Phillips said they would vote for the 2,200-home recommendation.
On Saturday, Feb. 3, Councilman Cole bristled at the notion that Councilmen Dukes and Phillips would vote for the 2,200-home recommendation.
"There's a little bit of arrogance, especially from representatives of other parts of council, who think they know better what is best for us in coastal Sussex County (than coastal residents)," said Cole. "All of the local (municipal) officials (in his district) oppose this rezoning."
Cole said the Americana Bayside proposal doesn't meet any pressing need for housing in the county. He said the county needs, above all else, affordable housing for local families but with a likely average price of $150,000, the Americana Bayside development wouldn't fill that need. It would, instead, be marketed to retirees and vacationers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
Cole also discounted the notion that the project is needed at that size to provide construction jobs, saying that local construction crews are overwhelmed by the amount of work they already have.
He challenged Dukes' and Phillips' statements that the county needed to approve the P&Z recommendation to be consistent with past decisions, too, saying that the county needs to institute a moderate transition from its highest density zonings to its lowest density lands.
He also said that the only reason the land in question was placed in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan's development district -- a fact cited by Freeman and its supporters for approval of the project -- was because County Administrator Robert L. Stickels said the county couldn't qualify for much-needed state infrastructure money for Route 54 without the development district designation.
"To qualify for the money, we had to do that," said Cole. "It was a two-edged sword. I just hoped the county would act responsibly as a group. I recall there wasn't much support for it (development district designation)."
The issue simmered last spring during Planning & Zoning and county council public hearings that drew capacity crowds to express their opposition to the proposal.
County council held its public hearing on April 4, 2000, but has delayed a vote to go through the mountains of documents pertaining to the proposal. Councilman Colehas postponed several announced plans to put the issue to a vote since June 2000.
The land is currently zoned AR-1, or one home per 3/4 acre. Freeman has requested rezoning to MR-RPC, which allows as many as four homes per acre.
Planning & Zoning recommended last April that Freeman be allowed to build 2,200 homes, down from the 2,900 homes Freeman originally requested.
Planning & Zoning also recommended 21 stipulations for approval of the development, which would be the county's largest town during the summer and one of its largest during the off-season.
Included among the stipulations are requirements that the maximum square footage for retail/office space be no more than 220,000 square feet, that residential building permits be limited to no more than 300 per year, and that the development can not include a marina or other boating facilities except for a water taxi service.
Proponents of the development have cited Freeman's reputation as a quality builder, job and economic growth from the project, and an increase in the county's tax base as reasons forapproving the rezoning.
Opponents have cited the development's effect on the surrounding environment, its impact on over-burdened Route 54 -- a designated evacuation route -- and its impact on already overcrowded beaches in Fenwick Island and the Fenwick Island State Park.
Opponents have also cited the way Freeman's developments typically dominate the surrounding area, pointing to the Sea Colony oceanfront and Sea Colony West projects in Bethany Beach and the Bear Trap development that will more than double the size of the Town of Ocean View in 10 years.
The issue has divided local legislators, with Rep. Shirley Price opposing approval of the rezoning and Sen. George Bunting, after signing a document opposing approval in January 2000, now coming out in favor of the Planning & Zoning Commission's recommendation.
Councilman Cole said he believes the current AR-1 zoning only allows for a development of 600 homes because the golf course and wetlands acreage should not be figured into the acreage for the home sites and has said that size development would be "a superior plan".
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