Zoning Change Passes
Despite Building Without Permits
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GEORGETOWN -- In a controversial split vote that will likely lead to new county legislation, Sussex County Council approved a change of zone for county businessman David Ritter at its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 17, 2001.
In relocating his business from Route 24 to Long Neck Road next to the Julius Place subdivision, Ritter, the owner of Full Tilt Marine, decided to build his new building before obtaining all of the necessary permits required for approval of the change of zone.
Council tabled the matter on June 19, four days after Ritter pleaded guilty to disregarding zoning regulations. Ritter paid nearly $4,500 in fines and court costs.
On Tuesday, July 17, council voted 3-2 to approve the rezoning from an AR-1 to C-1 district for his two-acre property.
Council President Dale Dukes cast the deciding vote, echoing fellow council members George Cole and Finley B. Jones when he said that even though he felt Ritter knowingly violated the county's zoning regulations and was morally wrong in doing so, the upgrade to a C-1 district was a proper land use for that area.
Council members Vance Phillips and Lynn Rogers voted against the application, saying the county was opening itself up to future abuse by businesses that wouldn't think twice about paying a $4,000 fine to get a head start on their project.
"The issue here is precedence," said Rogers. "The way he (Ritter) has gone around this, if this passes, I wouldn't want to be in Mr. Stickels' (county administrator) or Mr. Lank's (Planning & Zoning Director) shoes. This allows people to violate the ordinance, get a slap on the hand, and set up shop. I'm not saying if he had followed proper procedure I wouldn't have supported this, but the way he did it, I can't support this."
With that, council then launched into a debate about how to, as Dukes put it, "put some teeth" into the county's ceast and desist powers.
Dukes previously had asked county solicitor Eugene Bayard to draft such an ordinance, but he sparked another debate on Tuesday when he said, "It's not our business to put people out of business.
"There's a difference between someone knowing they're in violation and someone who starts up a small engine repair shop in his garage and one day has to add on (due to the business' growth)," said Dukes.
Cole took exception to such an idea, saying the county shouldn't accept applications from anyone who is in violation whether they were aware of the violations or not.
"They should have to come into compliance before we accept their application," said Cole. "I think that is how 90 percent of the counties in this country do it."
Rogers agreed with Dukes, questioning whether Cole would have the county shut down a businessperson who started up a lawn mower repair shop in his garage in violation of county ordinances even though he was only repairing mowers for a few neighbors.
"Yes," said Cole. "You said it. It's a violation of a county ordinance. You shouldn't pick and choose who the good violators are and who the bad violators are."Land Acquisition Program ...
Council heard an alternative proposal to its controversial Land Acquisiton Program from Mike McGrath of the Delaware Agricultural Lands Foundation.
Last week, County Administrator Robert L. Stickels made a pitch for establishing a land acquisition program to acquire land that the county could use for buffering existing county facilities. A workshop on the program has been scheduled for July 24, 2001.
On Tuesday, McGrath, at the request of Councilman Vance Phillips, presented council with an option for entering into the state of Delaware's farmland preservation program.
Phillips invited McGrath to present an alternative proposal because he is concerned that the county would become proactive in acquiring lands with the money set aside for such a program whether it made sense for the county to buy the properties or not.
McGrath told council that he believed the county would get much better land preservation value for its money through his agency's program because the county would only have to pay a portion of the cost for farmers' development rights rather than the entire purchase price for a piece of property as proposed under the original program.
McGrath said the state has purchased the development rights of 88 Sussex County farms and in the process preserved 18,841 acres of farmland. He said 94 of the 177 farmers on the foundation's waiting list now are from Sussex County.
He added, however, that this year the state has allocated only $6 million for the program and that the county could help by paying for a portion of the development rights.
Development rights, he said, are typically half of a farm's value and that the foundation acquires those rights for 50 percent of their value or 25 percent of the farm's total value. He said the county could then contribute to purchasing half of the development rights' value.
Councilman George Cole, long an opponent of using tax dollars to purchase farmers' development rights, said the county should not get into the farmland preservation business.
He cited instances where farmers have sold their development rights and then used that money to buy and develop other land.
"I'm of the opinion that government shouldn't tell people how to spend their money," said McGrath in response.
"I'm of the opinion that we shouldn't be in this program because government shouldn't be interfering in the marketplace," said Cole.
"We have no critical loss of farmland in Sussex County," Cole continued. "We can protect farmland through zoning. The farmers should be beating on us to protect farms (through zoning), but they won't do it."
McGrath said the first county council that attempted to protect farmland through zoning would earn a free dinner from him.
Phillips then asked McGrath to compare how far the county's money would go in a straight land acquisition program versus a development rights purchase program and was told by McGrath that the purchase of development rights would probably preserve eight times more land than a straight land acquisition program.
Cole still bristled at the idea. "Just because they're farmers, they're not sacred," he said. "But nobody has the political will to do it (stop development rights purchases)."
"The reason you can say that is you don't have any farmers in your constituency," said Phillips to Cole.
Phillips said the state has threatened to take away a half of a percent of its realty transfer tax revenue if the county doesn't start using the $10 million surplus it has amassed over the past few years, due largely to the explosion in realty transfer tax revenues.
Cole then questioned McGrath on the county's AR-1 zoning district, which allows 1 house per 3/4 acre. "That's one of the highest agricultural densities in the country," Cole said. "If farmers want to preserve farmland, then why don't they go after that first."
Sussex Ventures Appeal ...
Council reviewed the video tape provided by the opponents of a proposed 71-lot development in the Mount Joy area.
Council reviewed the tape as part of its duties in the appeal of the developer, Sussex Ventures Inc., of the Planning & Zoning Commission's 4-0 preliminary plan denial on April 5, 2001.
The video showed the effect of a storm on the property. According to Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank, the video was provided by David Weidman, attorney for the Mount Joy Citizens for Concerned Growth.
Opponents cited the amount of water that runs onto the proposed development area on 82.61 acres in the Indian River Hundred south of Road 297 and west of Route 30 as evidence that the Planning & Zoning Commission's denial should be upheld.
The video showed large ponds of water on various parts of the land. Lank said the video was taken a couple of hours after a storm.
In the appeals process, council acts as a judicial body to determine if the denial should be overturned or upheld, if it should be sent back to Planning & Zoning for more evidence supporting the rejection, or if it should be sent back to Planning & Zoning for more specific reasoning for its denial.
Counseling Service Approved ...
Council approved a conditional use request by Delaware Guidance Services for Children and Youth Inc. for a new building on Best Lane in the west Rehoboth area.
Councilman Lynn Rogers, whose district the proposed building will be in, voted against approval because residents in an adjacent subdivision expressed concerns about existing traffic congestion on Best Lane.
"Best Lane is a nightmare," said Rogers. "This weekend, traffic was stopped from 258 South. I don't agree with the (Delaware) Department of Transportation's statements on this."
Rogers originally wanted to add a sixth condition to the list of stipulations that Delaware Guidance must follow in its planning and construction.
His request to require Delaware Guidance to extend its entrance road to the tile behind the property was rejected, however, when county solicitor Eugene Bayard said such a condition would require the builder to pave over another property owner's property.
That property is owned by Ocean Atlantic.
"I'm concerned about placing a burden on Ocean Atlantic, which is not the applicant," said Bayard. "You can require the applicant to pave to the back of its property. Anything else would have to be between (Delaware Guidance and Ocean Atlantic)."
The five conditions council imposed on the project are:
In Other Business ...
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