Sussex County Delaware

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Sussex County Council ...

Palisades Denied; Trial
Run for Night Meetings

By KERIN MAGILL
SC Online Content Editor

GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council denied by a 3-2 vote a rezoning request for a 750-home development near the Assawoman Bay Wildlife Area, citing concerns about the types of housing proposed in the rural area and the developers' plans for an on-site sewer system.

The community, to be known as The Palisades, would have been built on 354 acres on both sides of Sussex Road 364 (Camp Barnes Road), one-half mile southeast of Sussex Road 363 (Double Bridges Road) and on both sides of Sussex Road 364A (Miller Neck Road).

Since The Palisades is not near an existing county sewer district, the developers planned to use what they called a "state-of-the-art" drip irrigation system to disperse the 225,000 to 270,000 gallons of treated wastewater estimated to be produced by the development daily once it was completed.

The state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control had issued a "nonbinding statement of feasibility" regarding the proposed system, and had complimented developers on their efforts to come up with an environmentally friendly solution to the wastewater issue.

But the Office of State Planning and Coordination expressed concerns about the development, saying it "has the potential to alter the hydrology of the area" and harm a rare species of grass located in the adjacent wildlife area. Hirt's Panic Grass is located in the Assawoman refuge and only three other places in the world.

The state planning office also said the destruction of 100 acres of forest will "fragment the forest" and will "greatly diminish" its value to plants and animals that live there, and that the loss of woodlands, even without the 750 homes, would "contribute to the continued degradation" of the Inland Bays water quality.

The developers, meanwhile, said they would only clear 17 percent of the wooded area of the site.

"This project will change the character of that community and we shouldn't be doing that," said council member George Cole, R-Cedar Neck, of the Palisades proposal.

Cole said the development would be the "death knell to that little community." He said he feels the council's "priorities are out of whack" as it approves one second-home development after another. "There is no need for any additional second home (communities)," in Sussex County, he said.

Council members Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, and Lynn Rogers, D-Milton, voted in favor of the rezoning application, but not before Phillips attempted to float a motion that would limit the development to single family homes.

The plans called for the Palisades to include 233 single family homes, 202 duplexes, 251 townhomes and 64 apartment/condominium units. County Attorney James Griffin said he was "not comfortable" with the council on a restructured community that the developer did not submit, and recommended the council deny it rather than remove the multi-family housing. Phillips' motion died for lack of a second.

Before Phillips' voted for the project, he said he had been "hearing concerns from constituents, and I heed those concerns. There doesn't seem to be enough support out there for this private type of sewer. There seems also to be concern out there about the type of housing." He said by trying to have the multi-family units removed, he was "trying my best to satisfy the concerns of my constituents."

Council member Finley Jones, D-Greenwood, said "it seems strictly out of character to have townhomes in this area." Council member Dale Dukes agreed, but said his biggest concern was the proposed on-site sewer.

The motion to approve the Palisades' rezoning failed even though it included a condition that it not be built until public sewer would be available -- which could be more than five years from now.

Rogers, one of the two council members voting for the application, said he felt "the main issue is the availability of sewer." He added that if the application were defeated, a project with individual septic systems could be proposed. The county has made a major push in the past several years to decrease the number of septic systems in the Inland Bays watershed by creating central sewer systems.

Because the land is zoned AR-1 Agricultural-Residential, a development could still be built there containing approximately 500 homes.

After an April 15 public hearing, the county council followed the lead of the Planning and Zoning Commission, which deferred a decision on the proposal following a March 27 hearing. Cole attempted to have the record left open for another two weeks for further information from the applicant, and two weeks past that for responses, but his motion died for lack of a second.

Council to Try Monthly Night Meetings

Sussex County Council voted 4-1 to hold nighttime meetings on the third Tuesday of each month.

The issue has been brought up several times by council member Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, and defeated each time. This time, council member Finley Jones, D-Greenwood, asked that it be placed on the agenda. "I've always been in favor of at least trying it," Jone said.

"I think we ought to try it," said council member Dale Dukes, D-Laurel. The meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. A 30-minute recess will be scheduled between the regular portion of the meetings and any public hearings that are scheduled.

Council member George Cole said the experiment is "doomed to failure" because attendance at a particular meeting will depend on what's on the agenda. "If it's not a controversial topic, you're not going to get a big crowd," Cole said. "One meeting a month is just a waste of time."

Phillips said he believes the meeting agendas could "easily be manipulated" in order to lighten the agendas of the night meetings. He also said a 4 p.m. starting time would be better.

Phillips decried what he felt was a half-hearted attempt to meet the needs of working constituents who want to attend meetings. "It's a sophomoric attempt by some to cover their butts in an election year," Phillips said. But he said he'd vote for it because "any night meeting is a good night meeting."

Some county staff members will be paid overtime to stay for the nighttime meetings, according to County Administrator Robert Stickels.

Council President Lynn Rogers expressed doubt about the turnout the night meetings would get, based on earlier experiments with expanding the hours of county offices in the early mornings and evenings. The expanded hours were abandoned after a few months because turnout was sparse. But, Rogers said, "I'll give anything a shot."

The first nighttime meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 19, at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at the County Administration Building on The Circle in Georgetown. They will continue each month on the third Tuesday, through December 2003.

Country Meadows Appeal Hearing Held

The saga of the Country Meadows subdivision near Millsboro continued on Tuesday with a hearing before the Sussex County Council on an appeal by the developer, Sussex Ventures Inc.

Sussex Ventures has appealed the Planning and Zoning Commission's denial of its third subdivision application for Country Meadows, a proposed 64-unit development off Sussex Road 297.

The first denial came in July 2001, and the most recent in January 2003. Recurring concerns for the commission have been the length of the subdivision's interior cul-de-sac road, and whether it would be difficult for emergency vehicles to traverse it; the loss of farmland in a rural area, drainage, and the subdivision's single entrance.

John Sergovic, attorney for the developer, said experts have testified the development will not cause stormwater problems for the surrounding residents, that 13 other similar subdivisions have been approved in the same area -- rendering concerns about loss of farmland argument invalid -- and that the interior road does not violate the county's subdivision ordinance. Sergovic also said the state Department of Transportation has limited Country Meadows to a single entrance.

Donald Ward of Sussex Ventures Inc. said his firm is "not looking to change the character of the area," and that he is seeking to build the 64 homes on 76 acres. He said no evidence has been submitted showing Country Meadows would exascerbate sedimentation, flooding or erosion. In fact, Ward said, the Inland Bays "are going to be substantially cleaner" because the stormwater wouldn't be running across open farmland anymore.

But Gay Moore, representing the Mount Joy Citizens for Responsibile growth, told the council that "If we find excuses to permit a 64-unit subdivision in an AR-1 zone, not in a development district, why do we have a Land Use Plan? Why do we have a Planning and Zoning Commission? I'm not against development, but I want it done responsibly," Moore said.

The council decided to leave the record open on the appeal for another week -- until June 10 -- for the opposition to submit any additional comments. There was some confusion regarding whether they would be allowed to submit anything at the appeal hearing that had not been considered during the last Planning and Zoning hearing. The developer would have another week after June 10 to respond to anything new submitted by the opposition.

In Other Business ...
  • Sussex County Sheriff Robert Reed presented a sheriff's deputy with a national award at the June 3 meeting. Corporal Kirk Pope received the National Sheriffs' Association Medal of Merit. Pope distinguished himself, Reed said, through his work on the department's Web site, which has won three awards for design. Reed said the Web site has resulted in an increase in sheriff sales participation, and that Pope's work with technological programs has increased productivity. "Deputy Pope is a credit to the people of Sussex County and the Sussex County Sheriff's office," Reed said in a prepared statement. Reed said the only higher award bestowed by the National Sheriffs' Association requires being shot or wounded in the line of duty. "I'm thrilled that he didn't receive that," Reed said.

  • County Administrator Robert Stickels announced the Register of Wills office is relocating from the Sussex County Courthouse to the new Court of Chancery building, on the northeast quadrant of The Circle in Georgetown. The Register of Wills office will be closed Wednesday, June 4 through Friday, June 6 and will reopen at 8:30 a.m. Monday, June 9.

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