Sussex County Delaware

Council Given Two
Options for Highway

 
Sussex County Council ...

Both Choices Use U.S. 113
for Limited Access Road

By ERIC MAGILL
SC Online Publisher

GEORGETOWN -- Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Nathan Hayward III told Sussex County Council on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2001, that the department has narrowed options for a limited access North-South highway in the county to two choices.

Speaking at council's regular meeting, Hayward said both options boiled down to using the 32-mile stretch of U.S. 113 in Sussex County for the new highway. He said the next step would be to enlist public opinion on which option would be most desirable.

One option would be to make "localized" improvements to U.S. 113 to increase traffic efficiency on the road that has been widened to four lanes throughout Sussex County but includes many stop lights that back traffic up. Hayward said that option would have the least environmental and economic impact and would "add significant capacity" to the road.

The second option would be to use parts of the existing U.S. 113 in combination with a series of bypasses around major bottleneck areas such as Georgetown and Milford.

Hayward said the first option would include safety improvements, through lanes and "other investments", use approximately 45 to 60 acres of wetlands, and take 5 to 15 years to implement.

The second option, he said, would require approximately 700 to 800 acres of agricultural land, 175 to 200 acres of wetlands, and at an estimated $500 million, cost a "couple hundred million dollars more" than the first option. It would also take much longer to build than the first option, he said.

Hayward said a working group established by DelDOT also looked at using Route 1 and U.S. 13 but decided that U.S. 113 would provide the best option for achieving its goals:

  1. The improvement of the transportation network in Sussex County, particularly to lessen the impact that regional through traffic to points south has on the county's residents;

  2. The opportunity for intelligently planned future growth, whether residential, commercial or industrial, by local communities;

  3. To have as little impact as possible on open space and agricultural lands and to preserve local historical and cultural values.

"If we can accomplish those three things, then we feel we've hit a home run," said Hayward. "That's our vision. It's consistent and supports the Governor's program for Liveable Delaware. We would like to achieve it everywhere we go."

Hayward said the working group believed Route 1 already had too much development and that too many important natural resources would be impacted by the construction of a limited access highway there.

As for U.S. 13, he said too many businesses there were dependent on that highway traffic and that residents on the western side of the county "seem reasonably comfortable there" with the current state of the road.

Hayward said the use of U.S. 113 would address regional transportation issues that have arisen over the years beginning with the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel 30 years ago, which provided a route south using U.S. 13.

He said the U.S. 113 limited access highway would connect with the state's existing limited access highways, which connect with major interstates such as I-95 in the New York to Washington, D.C. corridor.

"We met with our counterparts in Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey recently and the point they all raised in our discussions was that this growth is in regional traffic," Hayward said.

"I-95 used to be a major north-south road but it is no longer looked at from their perspective as being only a north-south solution. As big as that road is, and as much money as has been invested in it, it's reaching the saturation point, not just on busy times of the year but, in fact, every day of the year.

"Particularly around Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia, it gets very choked up, and people are naturally looking for alternatives, commercial traffic as well as individual automobiles. We have to recognize there is no way to shrink the population. We have to try to anticipate that growth and provide intelligent transportation alternatives."

After his presentation, council members thanked Hayward for his attentiveness to their requests for relief in the county.

Hayward said he understood their frustration with his predecessor, Anne Canby, and that when he took over, he promised Sen. George Bunting that he would make a study of a limited access highway a priority.

"This (limited access highway) was one of those issues that seemed to slip through the cracks," said Hayward. "And candidly speaking, my predecessor felt very strongly that if you ignored a problem, it might go away, or if you ignored it, somebody else might come along and solve it. The first thing I told Sen. Bunting was that there was no sense in trying to duck issues."

Council members did have some questions for Hayward. Councilman Vance Phillips asked whether the limited access highway would include the stop lights that bog traffic down so often in summer.

Hayward said the new road would not be "100 percent" stop light free but that "it would come close". Hayward said some signalization will be necessary to reduce the environmental harm the road causes. County Administrator Robert L. Stickels said he also believed the limited access highway may enable DelDOT to eliminate some stop lights on other major roads in the county.

Phillips also questioned the road's effect on property values. Hayward said that land identified for use for the road would be compensated for at fair market value.

Councilman George Cole expressed concerns about the "planned growth" Hayward referred to, saying most of the so-called planned growth in the state in the past 20 to 30 years has been "poorly planned".

"To imply that planning will suddenly become better scares me," Cole said. "I'm concerned that we're telling people this is a transportation solution. I look at Dover and New Castle County. When we built those new fancy roads (Route 1) and then we had smart growth and we started planning to put more growth around these corridors, they became very busy.

"I'm very skeptical about these solutions. In Sussex County we've got to preserve a different way of life and quality of life. All I hear from the state is the only thing worth preserving is farmland. There is more in Sussex County worth preserving than just farmland."

Hayward said that planning in the past 10 years has become better because the public has become more involved in the process. He said the county's natural resources and quality of life will be considered in the design of the highway.

"There is no way a project of this size could succeed without a significant amount of public involvement," he said. "I think that we will preserve not only agricultural space but other values, as well."

Calzano said that pending the environmental study, he expected settlement to occur in December.

Solid Waste Station

Council heard a presentation from the Delaware Solid Waste Authority regarding the agency's plans to build a new solid waste transfer station in the Harbeson area.

The proposal from the DSWA, which does not need zoning approval from the county, has been controversial because it takes waste from the Lewes and Rehoboth Beach areas to the Harbeson area.

Local residents who would be most affected by the station argue that if Lewes and Rehoboth Beach residents want a transfer station, it should be located in their towns.

Pasquale S. Canzano, the authority's chief operating officer, told council that the authority intended to settle on the 300-acre parcel once a satsifactory environmental impact study was completed. If the impact study was not satisfactory, only then would the authority look at optional sites.

Calzano added that the authority could not find any properties within its budget on the expensive Route 1 corridor in Lewes and Rehoboth Beach and that for the transfer station to be economically feasible, it needs to be located within a 5- to 10-mile radius of the communities it serves.

He said the authority would use only 30 acres of the 300-acre parcel for the 120-foot by 120-foot transfer station and that the remaining 270 acres would be placed into agricultural preservation. Watson Appeal Denied

Council unanimously voted to defer an appeal of a rezoning denial by the planning and zoning commission for a 37-lot subdivision proposed by Gary Watson on a 40-acre parcel in the Broad Creek Hundred.

Council had the option of deferring a decision on the appeal, upholding Planning and Zoning's decision, or rejecting P&Z's decision.

Planning and Zoning denied the application to rezone the property from an AR-1 District in May. Preliminary approval had been granted in January 1999 but the approval expired before Watson came back with a revised plan.

David Rutt, attorney for Watson, told council that Planning and Zoning had used arbitrary criteria that hadn't been read into the record as the basis for its denial.

When the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to deny the application in May, Rutt said P&Z member Ben Gordy's motion to deny the application included concerns about the noise and odor from adjacent poultry houses and said Gordy had approached neighbors of the proposed subdivision and that the contents of those discussions had never been entered into the public record even though they were the basis for the denial.

Councilman Vance Phillips asked Rutt if he believed P&Z members should avoid contact with the public while the record is open and Rutt said, "I suggest yes. If citizens want to comment they can come to a public hearing. He (Gordy) admitted in his preface (to his motion in May) that he had gone outside the record and talked to people about what they thought should be done, which can' be formed as a basis for a decision."

Rutt added that the county's AR-1 zoning allows for the mixing of farming operations such as poultry houses with residential dwellings and that fact would justify council's reversal of the commission's denial.

Council members, however, chose instead to defer action until they had a chance to review the record thoroughly. Council President Dale Dukes abstained from the proceedings due to a conflict of interest with the applicant.

Councilman George Cole asked, with this appeal coming on the heels of another appeal of a P&Z denial by Sussex Ventures Inc., if Planning and Zoning had changed its criteria for AR-1 rezoning approvals.

"Is Planning and Zoning sending some kind of message on AR-1 Districts?" Cole asked.

Shane Abbott of the county's Planning & Zoning department said he was not aware of any changes in the way P&Z looked at AR-1 applications and added that the commission had approved three other applications at its last meeting involving farming operations.

Phillips then asked Rutt if Planning and Zoning would be justified in its denial if any of the 17 criteria listed for subdivision approvals in County Code 99-9 Section C were not met.

"Planning and Zoning needs to review those and they can require the applicant to show (its plans meet the criteria)," said Rutt. "But they can't impose extraneous criteria. Planning and Zoning could defer a decision and tell the applicant what needs to be done (to meet the criteria)."

In Other Business ...
  • Council will not meet on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001, due to the Labor Day holiday. Council's next meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 10 a.m.

  • Council voted 4-0, with Councilman Vance Phillips abstaining, to authorize County Administrator Robert L. Stickels to enter into negotiations for a contract with Schaeffer Consulting for consulting services on the upcoming updating of the county's comprehensive land use plan. The plan must be updated by October 2002. In addition, Stickels said he anticipates a minimum of 12 public hearings, with at least one in each councilmanic district, during the updating process. Before abstaining, Phillips questioned whether it wouldn't be less expensive for the county to provide the updating services in-house. Cole said the workload, on top of what the county administration already does, would be too great and would dilute the quality of the work. Stickels agreed, but said, "if that's what council chooses, we'll find a way to do it."

  • Stickels said he would put the North-South Limited Access Highway at the top of the priority list for DelDOT's next Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan for the county. He said he would ask DelDOT to incorporate $100 million for the highway into the CIP. He said previously requested east-west improvements on roads like Route 54, Route 26, Route 16 and Route 36 would also be included in his requests.

  • Following discussion of the Watson appeal, Councilman George Cole asked County Administrator Robert L. Stickels and County Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank to address densities in the agricultural districts during the updating of the comprehensive land use plan. "Everybody in the state I've talked to feels our agricultural zoning permits high density zoning (2 homes per acre) compared to other counties and states," Cole said. "We've talked about this (lowering densites in agricultural districts) before, but a lot of farming communities don't want to restrict residential uses in farming communities."

  • Council voted unanimously to proclaim September National Food Safety Education Month. The purpose of the declaration is to alert Sussex Countians to the importance of properly storing and handling food, such as keeping refrigerator temperatures below 40 degrees. The proclamation stated that food-borne illnesses affect 7.6 million people per year and 5,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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