to Hold Night Meetings
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Photo: Georgetown Mayor and SCAT President Bob Ricker at a council meeting earlier in the year.
GEORGETOWN -- The Sussex County Association of Towns cancelled a planned appearance at the regular Sussex County Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2000, regarding the recent regional planning meetings held throughout the county.
SCAT President Bob Ricker, the mayor of Georgetown, wrote in a letter to council that SCAT members need to meet as a group to be sure they are all informed about the issues raised during those meetings before proposing the Regional Planning Initiative to council.
"The stability of the Sussex County way of life we enjoy today is too important to go into this issue misinformed and ill-prepared," Ricker wrote.
Reached Wednesday, Ricker said everyone from developers to the towns to the county seem to be interested in developing a "useable resolution" to the county's land-use problems but that "it seems like we're not all going in the same direction."
Some SCAT members, Ricker said, didn't understand that the Regional Planning Initiative "was going to be a SCAT project".
The county held the four regional planning meetings at four different sites in October and November, but confusion has arisen among SCAT members in other regions over suggestions from the Region 3 committee (Dagsboro, Frankford, Selbyville, Fenwick Island, South Bethany, Bethany Beach, Ocean View and Millville).
Region 3's suggestions included not allowing re-zonings in the environmentally sensitive coastal areas, a 100-foot setback for wetlands, and elimination of some types of development (golf courses, federal wetlands and commercial areas) in calculating densities for residential planned communities.
Ricker wrote that SCAT members needed to meet to discuss the issues raised during those meetings at either the SCAT Steering meeting on Jan. 5, 2001, or the next regular meeting of SCAT on Feb. 7, 2001.
He added that any SCAT members who couldn't attend those meetings should submit written comments.
"We are asking the Sussex County Council to make decisions that could have a long lasting effect on the entire county," Ricker wrote, "and if your voices are not heard now, I'm afraid they may fall upon deaf ears later."
Night Meetings Rejected
By a 3-2 vote, council rejected Councilman Vance Phillips' motion for a trial period for night meetings beginning in March 2001.
Actually, the meetings would have been a combination of late afternoon/night meetings. Under Phillips' proposal, council's regular business meetings would have begun at 4 p.m. with public hearings scheduled for 7 p.m. each Tuesday.
Currently, council holds its regular business meeting at 10 a.m. and public hearings at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays.
After much debate, Councilmen Dale Dukes, Finley B. Jones and Lynn Rogers voted against the motion, with Phillips and Cole voting for it. Jones initially said he would support trying out night meetings but when the motion for a six-month night meeting trial period came to a vote, he changed his mind.
Their reasons for opposing the proposal ranged from cutting into their family time to potentially less media coverage to the danger of senior citizens driving at night.
Dukes was the most vocal opponent of the motion, citing hardships on night-shift workers who wouldn't be able to attend night meetings, weekly newspapers whose deadlines are Tuesday afternoons, seniors who don't like driving at night, and on his own family life. Dukes also said that since council sometimes meets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. now, that a night meeting schedule would push those meetings past midnight.
Dukes added that he didn't believe that day meetings were unfair to day-shift workers since they could attend the Planning & Zoning Commission's public hearings at night.
Phillips, however, said the average meeting time is 1 hour, 45 minutes, and the average public hearing time is 1 hour, 30 minutes. "I don't think Mr. Dukes' comment that this will run real late has much merit," he said.
Phillips also questioned Dukes' priorities, "saying he has other meetings at night during the course of the week and it would be too great a burden on him when he just ran for re-election?"
Phillips said the public would be better served by night meetings, particularly at public hearings, "given the fact that people work during the daytime. This is a growing county and more and more persons would like to participate in zoning ordinances and rezoning requests that could affect their quality of life. I think at the very least we should move our public hearings to the evening time."
Cole disagreed with Dukes' contention that day-shift workers should be satisfied with night meetings for the Planning & Zoning Commission.
"The trouble is, P&Z makes recommendations. We vote," Cole said. "The people want to be seen and heard in front of us and I think it's more important to make ourselves more available." Cole did say that he didn't believe night meetings would be better attended than day meetings, which now only attract a handful of reporters, scheduled speakers, and a couple of private citizens.
Rogers said he doesn't believe members of the public are shut out of the governing process. He said he routinely receives calls and letters regarding important issues in the county and takes them as much into consideration as anyone standing in front of him at a council meeting.
"It doesn't fall on deaf ears," said Rogers of the calls and letters, "so their voice is heard."
Rogers did suggest changing the schedule of public hearings so that applicants don't wear out opponents with lengthy presentations, forcing the opponents to head home before having a chance to speak. "People who have other things to do don't have five or six hours to wait to be heard," said Rogers.
Rogers finally cited the cost of moving to a night schedule with overtime or comp time that would be due to county employees who have to stay past normal working hours for a night meeting. And, he said one of the things he likes about the day-time schedule is the ability to summon a county employee for advice on an issue during the meeting.
Phillips said he will probably raise the issue next year when council discusses its meeting schedule again.
Propane Tanks Denied ...
Council voted 4-1 against a proposal by Chesapeake Utilities to place storage tanks to serve the Bear Trap Dunes development in Ocean View on 5.74 acres outside the town.
Councilmen George Cole, Dale Dukes, Finley B. Jones and Lynn Rogers voted against the application, while Councilman Vance Phillips voted for it.
The county's Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of the proposal by a 3-2 margin even though it received 202 signatures against it, a questionable soil report, and statements from the Office of State Planning Coordination that the site southeast of the intersection of Delaware 84 and Sussex 366 was in an environmentally sensitive area.
Councilmen George Cole and Finley B. Jones both said that Bear Trap had enough land to place the tanks within its boundaries. Councilman Dale Dukes voted against the proposal because the tanks couldn't be buried very deep due to the water table.
Phillips said he supported the application because he didn't feel the site threatened neighboring homes.
Council voted against a conditional use application from Tidewater Utilities for an elevated water storage facility on a 3/4-acre lot behind Midway Shopping Center between Lewes and Rehoboth.
After the Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the application on June 22 despite 50 signatures and 41 letters in opposition from local residents.
Councilman Dale Dukes said Tidewater should find a location closer to the development it would be serving, the Village of Five Points, Bay Crossing and Savannah Apartments, which are well north of the proposed site on Route 1.
Administrator's Report ...
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