Clean Up Confusing Ordinances
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GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council has asked its solicitor to draft a consolidated, "cleaned up" version of the controversial subdivision alteration ordinance it has been debating for 18 months.
At its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 20, 2001, council asked solicitor Dennis Schrader to combine the points it reached consensus on from four proposed ordinances, fix some typos, and deliver a single ordinance for council's vote at its next meeting on March 27.
The new ordinance is designed to streamline the subdivision alteration process that proponents claim is virtually impossible to navigate.
The current ordinance requires that developers of subdivisions receive consent from 100 percent of the subdivision's property owners before proposed changes and alterations can go to a public hearing before the county's Planning & Zoning Commission.
The points council agreed on for the new ordinance would eliminate the 100 percent consent requirement, replacing it instead with a requirement that the developer only notify all property owners of alteration plans before the plans go through the public hearing process.
After Planning & Zoning's ruling, either side could appeal that decision to county council.
The new ordinance would also increase the application fee for alterations from $100 to $300.
Changes and alterations to subdivisions might include lot line changes or decisions by developers not to provide swimming pools or other amenities promised to property owners when they bought their properties.
The issue surfaced in August 1999 when new developers purchased subdivisions and wanted to change the original developer's plans. The new developers said it was impossible to get 100 percent approval of all of the property owners because of difficulties in contacting out-of-state property owners.
Councilmen repeatedly expressed their confusion over the four proposed ordinances during the 40-minute debate Tuesday.
Councilmen Vance Phillips and George Cole wrangled for much of the discussion, with Councilman Phillips contending council had waited long enough to vote on the matter and Councilman Cole saying the new ordinance removes the only protection property owners have in subdivision alteration cases.
Phillips said the new ordinance actually protects those property owners, including property owners on the minority side of an alteration issue, by moving alteration cases to a public hearing rather than letting them die because developers couldn't obtain unanimous consent from property owners.
Cole disputed that assertion. He said property owners would be forced to hire attorneys to deal with the complexities of alteration proposals and be forced to go to Georgetown for hearings on alteration plans that could be "frivolous".
"The burden will be on residents to counter the applicant's attorney (in a public hearing)," said Cole. "We'll be relying on an attorney's spin versus a general public that doesn't have the opportunity to delve as deeply into private deed restrictions as an attorney. We're really short-changing the people of Sussex County who buy lots because we're taking away all of their protections."
Phillips disagreed, saying the current process denies "the minority's right to be heard." He said the county's public hearing process would be best to determine the fate of alteration plans. "We have a process that is fair," he said. "It's a tried and true process."
Cole differed on that point, too, saying a public hearing before a politically appointed Planning & Zoning Commission that council has repeatedly disagreed with would not serve anyone well.
"Politics and personalities will come into play," he said. "I guarantee you politics will come into play, especially with a Planning and Zoning commission that isn't elected."
Cole said he didn't agree that developers should be forced to obtain 100 percent consent but that there should be a percentage in the ordinance -- "somewhere between 51 percent and 99 percent" -- to prevent wasting Planning & Zoning's time on issues where less than half of a subdivision's property owners approve of proposed changes.
Cole also said it was ludicrous to charge only $100 for subdivision changes. That fee was established in 1982, according to Lawrence Lank, the county's planning and zoning director.
"We expect our attorneys to investigate private deed restrictions for $100?", he asked. "The rest (of the county's attorney's fees) will have to be subsidized by our tax base."
In the end, council voted 3-2 to deny a motion from Phillips for one version of the ordinance that would have eliminated requirement of consent for a public hearing but would have allowed council to address the $100 fee at its next meeting.
Phillips said he would have more patience if council had not been debating the ordinance for 18 months. "We need to take a step today," he said. "It's critical that we provide the public a forum to discuss the facts. This protects the minority's right to be heard. Encumbering the ordinance with a percentage would not allow individuals to be heard."
Cole led the charge against the motion, saying "we never revisit anything" and "it's better to narrow it down to one ordinance."
"Giving people an opportunity to be heard is not the issue," he said. "The issue is whether there is merit to the request (for a change). With a percentage involved, you get a degree of protection from frivolous requests. What arrogance, what right do we have here in Georgetown to make decisions on their subdivisions. This opens the gates to political shenanigans."
Councilman Lynn Rogers voted with Phillips on the motion while Council President Dale Dukes and Councilman Finley B. Jones voted with Cole against the ordinance.
Council also voted against the other ordinances that would have required 0 percent consent to 75 percent consent.
Council President Dale Dukes asked Schrader to present a revised draft for a vote next Tuesday that would eliminate the consent requirement entirely and raise the fee to $300. Schrader said he would deliver a revised draft of one ordinance to council and to the planning and zoning commission in time for their next meetings.
County Gets Defibrillator ...
Photo: Sussex EMS representatives Tim Cooper (left) and Allen Barnes (center) demonstrate the automatic external defibrillator donated to the county. County Councilman Lynn Rogers is in the background.
County council received a new Automatic External Defibrillator for the county administration building from Bill Stevenson, director of the state's Emergency Management Services division.
The AED, which is used to revive victims of cardiac arrest, will be placed in the administration building for use by trained employees in the event an employee or visitor suffers a heart attack in the building.
Stevenson said three county employees have been trained to use the device and 15 others have volunteered for training. The county's paramedic team has also donated a first aid bank for the building.
Stevenson said the goal of EMS is to respond to a heart attack victim with CPR within four minutes and with the AED within six minutes.
Toward that end, the state has provided 39 AED units to 16 police departments throughout the state, has provided 13 AEDs to 11 fire agencies for their First Responder Service, and has identified 8 high-traffic public sites in Sussex County in which it will install 18 AEDs.
The First Responder Service units have been given to ambulance service personnel from local fire companies so they don't have to rush to the fire station and pick up a unit before heading to the site.
Stevenson said the money for the defibrillator came from the state's portion of the tobacco lawsuit settlement and that funding for the AEDs includes training.
After Tuesday's council meeting, Allen Barnes, professional standards division manager for Sussex County Emergency Management Services, and Tim Cooper, EMS spokesperson, demonstrated the AED for county councilmen Lynn Rogers and Dale Dukes.Smoke Detector Give-Away ...
Lowe's Home Improvement Center's Home Safety Council donated 500 smoke detectors for the county to give away as part of its ongoing smoke detector donation program.
Council began giving away smoke detectors at taxpayer expense following fires that killed 17 people in the county during the winter.
The smoke detectors from Lowe's will not come at taxpayer expense. They will be part of a state-wide donation of 2,000 smoke detectors from the company, which has a superstore in Lewes.
Lowe's employees Dave Anderson, Phil Lawrence and Jerilyn Urban received plaques of appreciation from council for their work in the program. The smoke detectors will be available in the lobby of the county administration building.In Other Business ...
Automatic External Defibrillator:
The state's emergency management services division has donated an automatic external defibrillator to Sussex County Council for use in the county's administrative building on The Circle in Georgetown. Council members got a demonstration of the device from Allen Barnes and Tim Cooper of the Sussex County EMS after Tuesday's council meeting. Click the link below for a video of the demonstration (please be patient while it loads).
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