Sussex County Delaware

Council Votes Down
Rezoning Moratorium

 
Sussex County Council ...

Hears Recommendation to
Make 113 North-South Road

By ERIC MAGILL
SC Online Publisher

GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council quashed a proposal for a rezoning moratorium in the coastal development district following a public hearing on Tuesday, June 12, 2001.

In a 4-1 vote at the CHEER Center in Georgetown, council declined to move forward on the proposal from the 8 mayors of the Association of Coastal Towns. The proposal would have delayed rezoning requests in AR-1 districts in unincorporated areas of the Coastal Development District until after the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan is updated in October 2002.

Councilman George Cole, who represents most of the coastal development district, cast the lone vote for proceeding with advertising a rezoning moratorium ordinance for public hearings and a vote.

Approximately 200 people attended the hearing Tuesday night. Thirty speakers gave their opinions on the A.C.T. proposal, with 16 favoring the idea, 13 opposing, and 1 agreeing that the Route 1 corridor might benefit from a moratorium but requesting that Long Neck and Oak Orchard not be included.

Under the proposal from A.C.T., no rezoning requests in AR-1 districts in the coastal development district, stretching from Lewes to Fenwick Island and along the inland bays, would be heard until after the update of the county's land use plan next year. Developers and land owners would still have been able to build under existing zonings.

In addition, A.C.T. mayors asked that council no longer include wetland or golf course acreage in density calculations.

"We are unanimous in our belief that this request is critically important to the long-term well-being of the citizens of our area," said Dewey Beach Mayor Bob Frederick, who along with Fenwick Island Mayor Peg Baunchalk presented the request from A.C.T. "We would like council to recognize the expertise of mayors in developing their districts."

Of the 13 opposing, at least five -- Bridgeville Town Council President Joe Conaway, Freeman Communities spokesperson Frank Kea, Greenwood farmer Dan Kramer, Phyllis McKinley of the First State Manufactured Housing Association, and Ken Christenbury of Design Consultants Group of Milton -- do not live in the coastal district, which includes the municipalities of Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Fenwick Island, Henlopen Acres, Lewes, Ocean View, Rehoboth Beach and South Bethany.

All of those favoring the moratorium live in the coastal district and included a real estate agent, members of homeowners associations, citizen coalitions, citizen advisory commissions, and the Sierra Club, and State Rep. Shirley Price, who represents the coastal district.

They presented a petition favoring the moratorium with 1,759 signatures of coastal district residents and letters of support from the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners Association, the Bethany Beach Land Owners Association, the Board of the Lewes Homeowners Association, and the Council of the Plantations development.

Opponents of the moratorium cited property owners' rights and the integrity of the 1997 Comprehensive Land Use Plan as their main reasons for opposition. They also questioned how serious development problems are in the coastal zone and cast doubt on whether a 16-month moratorium on rezonings could solve those problems.

Proponents said development has created a public health and safety emergency in the coastal district with water and air pollution, drinking water quality and quantity problems, over-crowding, traffic congestion, and strain on emergency services.

They argued that council was well within its rights to enact an emergency moratorium in the interest of public safety and health.

"We don't feel we're being alarmist when we say this truly represents an emergency situation," said Mayor Frederick. "Maybe most of us missed the warning signs four years ago and never anticipated how quickly things would change. We feel it's important to take a short-term pause for our long-term future."

Council members, however, were not moved. Council President Dale Dukes, in expressing his opposition, read from a statement he prepared before the hearing outlining his objections to the request.

Councilman Vance Phillips, who made the motion to move forward on the moratorium knowing the motion would fail, said he believed a moratorium would strip property owners of their right to be heard on rezoning requests.

"Rezonings may not be a right, but they are opportunities guaranteed by the land use plan," he said. "I don't think this body should take away those opportunities."

Councilman Lynn Rogers agreed with Phillips.

"I do not like the word 'moratorium' for any reason on any issue," he said. "I like the idea of letting any application live or die on its own merits."

Neither Dukes, Phillips, Rogers or Councilman Finley B. Jones live in the coastal development district, although Rogers represents a portion of it.

After the vote, Rehoboth Beach resident Ron Ray said, "Only one councilman (Cole) addressed the emergency situation (for justifying the moratorium). The rest side-stepped the issue."

Council is required by state law to update the Comprehensive Land Use Plan by October 2002. Councilmen assured coastal district residents that their concerns would be addressed and probably be included in the update.

During the hearing, those favoring the moratorium said the coastal development district needed a "pause" to assess the impact of development on the district's resources and infrastructure. They said a rezoning moratorium would help council assess those needs without being sidetracked by controversial, time-consuming rezoning requests along the way.

Proponents cited the recent posting of warning signs by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control alerting people to the potential dangers of swimming in or eating fish or shellfish from the inland bays due to the presence of pollutants and toxins as an example of the crisis the coastal zone is in.

Everything from farm runoff to over-development has been cited as the cause of the pollutants.

In one exchange, Rehoboth Beach resident Mable Granke, a member of the Citizens Coalition, answered several challenges from council regarding the effectiveness of a rezoning moratorium on the coastal area's problems.

Asked by Council President Dukes if she felt the Delaware Department of Transportation could solve all of the traffic problems Granke cited during her speech in just 16 months, Granke responded, "We feel that in that time we can find solutions. That's what can begin to be figured out. That's why you need a pause so these things can be figured out. You have a package of emergency problems and they need to be addressed and in a way that gives you time to think about it without the pressure of constant rezoning applications."

Councilman Phillips then told Granke that County Solicitor Eugene Bayard said a moratorium can't be established without an advertised ordinance and public hearing. Granke, however, said, "I understand that legal bodies have the right to take action in emergency situations."

Rep. Price said she understands both sides of the issue but asked council to give serious consideration to the request for the moratorium.

"I'm here to ask that you listen to the cries of local government," she said. "The mayors are more local than you are. You're hearing (from the mayors) what residents (in coastal areas) are saying."

Two of the more impassioned pleas against the moratorium came not from developers but from land owners. Describing themselves as native Sussex Countians, Wilma Jones and Carletta Lankford, both of whom live near Fenwick Island, told council that retirees should not be able to dictate land use policies here.

"Slowly, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island are being invaded by these people looking for their own little slice of life," said Lankford, who along with her retired parents own property in the coastal zone that they are considering selling to help with her parents' retirement. "I'm sorry, but no one promised these people that this area wouldn't change. The ones moving into the area are the ones who have caused it (over-crowding). Now that they're all here they want it all to stop.

"They are our neighbors and we have accepted them, but it doesn't give them the right to discriminate against those of us who have owned our properties all this time. I don't want anybody to tell me what I can and can't do on my property. Don't tell my parents that their properties will be worthless due to a moratorium so it can only be farmed. Don't tell me I can't make my parents' lives a little better."

Christenbury said he, likewise, believed a precious right was at stake.

"No one is asking for the right to rezone," Christenbury said. "We're only asking for the right to apply. It's (rezoning moratorium) unfair and an imposition on property owners' rights to simply request a rezoning."

Mike Lynn, president of RDM and developer of the Savannah's Landing and Hunter's Run developments in Ocean View, told council that he has purchased property based on the development patterns established by the 1997 Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

He said he believes the rezoning moratorium request was simply a knee-jerk reaction to the approval of the 1,700-unit Americana Bayside project of Freeman Communities on Route 54 west of Fenwick Island.

Lynn also said that if council did decide to institute a rezoning moratorium, it should grandfather projects already in the pipeline and not enact a moratorium until the coastal towns themselves enacted rezoning moratoriums.

"We base our projects and purchases on the adopted Comprehensive Land Use Plan," said Lynn. "We request rezonings when its appropriate based on the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. We don't expect guarantees for rezoning, but we expect a hearing for our projects to be analyzed. This is unfair and an inappropriate remedy."


North-South Highway ...

During its regular meeting held in the late afternoon due to the evening public hearing, council heard a proposal from the Delaware Department of Transportation to reconfigure U.S. 113 into the limited access highway the county administration has championed as a means of reducing congestion on the county's three highways.

DelDOT consultant Tom Shafer of Shafer Consulting told council that it would be far more cost-effective to convert most of U.S. 113 to limited access instead of building a new limited access highway.

Shafer said it would cost $16 million per mile for a new highway compared to $9 million per mile to convert 32 miles of U.S. 113 from Milford to the Maryland line. The conversion would take approximately 10 to 15 years.

Shafer said planners discussed four options for a limited access highway in central Sussex near U.S. 113 and another option in western Sussex near U.S. 13.

Shafer recommended the conversion of U.S. 113 because, he said, it doesn't have many businesses that depend on heavy traffic for survival as does U.S. 13. He said bypassing Georgetown, Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford wouldn't have as much impact economically as bypassing Bridgeville, Greenwood, Seaford, Laurel and Delmar on U.S. 13.

Shafer also said that U.S. 113 has wider medians for use as extra lanes and a good northern and southern terminus.

One option, Shafer said, would bypass U.S. 113 around Milford and use the road from there all the way to the Maryland line.

Another option would bypass Milford to the east, connect to U.S. 113 south of Ellendale, then bypass Georgetown, Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford before connecting back to U.S. 113 north of Selbyville.

Joe Wytka, DelDOT's deputy director of planning, said his department would submit a report on the ideas to Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward III to establish a timeline for such a project and meet with affected towns. The report would then go to the General Assembly.

Both Councilman Vance Phillips and County Administrator Robert L. Stickels said a North-South limited access highway is needed.

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