Sussex County Delaware

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Sussex County Council ...

Council Hears Land
Preservation Proposal

By ERIC MAGILL
SC Online Publisher

GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council heard a proposal from the Sussex County Land Trust to establish a private-public partnership between the organization and the county to preserve open space in Sussex County.

Speaking at council's regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2001, Wendy Baker, president and CEO of Sussex County Land Trust, told council her orgranization would be interested in a partnership that would help it purchase land for preservation.

County Administrator Robert L. Stickels then gave council an outline of a program that could be included in an ordinance to allow the county to participate in such a program.

Stickels noted that as the county updates its Comprehensive Land Use Plan by October 2002, it must include a program for land preservation or recreation as part of its revised plan.

Among the conditions Stickels recommended that council include in such an ordinance were:

  • Program would require an approved ordinance;
  • Council president would appoint two voting members to the Land Trust board of directors;
  • Council representatives would consist of one Republican and one Democrat;
  • County funds would only be used for land acquisition or development rights and not for the Land Trust's administrative expenses;
  • Council would hold public hearings and vote in open meetings on all expenditures to be used for land acquisition or development rights;
  • Council would write a check to the Land Trust before settlement on such acquisitions;
  • Council would pledge $1 million of its retained earnings initially and then 10 percent of any budget surpluses in ensuing years;

Council also agreed with a suggestion from Councilman George Cole that a 4/5 super-majority vote of council be required for approval of land purchases.

Stickels said he would have an ordinance drafted for discussion by February and that he hoped to have approval of such a program before the next budget is finalized in April 2002.

If the ordinance is approved, Stickels said the county would make an initial donation of $1 million and then start the annual contributions beginning with next year's budget.

Stickels said that based on the past few years, which have seen budget surpluses of $2 million to $3 million, that the county might be contributing $200,000 to $300,000 a year to the program.

Baker said the Land Trust is seeking "several" additional board members, preferably western Sussex County residents with an agricultural background.

Current board members are:

  • Craig Hudson, a Lewes developer;
  • State Rep. John R. Schroeder, D-Lewes, a banker;
  • Thomas H. Draper, a developer and owner of WBOC-TV in Salisbury, Md.;
  • Preston Schell, a Lewes developer;
  • Dennis Forney of Lewes, publisher of the Cape Gazette newspaper;
  • James Fuqua, a Georgetown real estate attorney;
  • Wendy Baker, a real estate property manager in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach.

Baker said the organization is in the middle of incorporating and would have bylaws by the time council decided on an ordinance to establish a program with the Land Trust.

Local developers have agreed to pay $50,000 a year for 5 years into the program.


Americana Sewer Expansion Delayed ...

Council voted unanimously to delay expansion of the Fenwick Island Sanitary Sewer District to include the Americana Bayside development and adjoining property owners at the request of individual property owners within the proposed expansion area.

Ellen Megee, a property owner on Route 54 whose property would be included in the Americana Bayside expansion, told council that she and other property owners in the expansion area did not have enough time to understand what was proposed in the letter the county engineering department sent to them on Dec. 5.

The residents had 10 days from the date the letter was mailed on Dec. 5 to respond as to whether they favored the expansion or not, but only 4 of 19 property owners did so, with one responding negatively, according to Assistant Engineer Russ Archut.

"I think it's a valid concern, especially when we only got 4 of 19 back," said Councilman Vance Phillips, who now represents the area under the county's redistricting plan approved last month. "There's a lot of mail coming in at Christmas time and I can see how people, especially the elderly, would put it aside without realizing what it was."

Megee also expressed concern that those residents who did not respond would be subject to a $500 annexation application fee if they decided they did want to be included in the expansion.

Those residents who didn't respond will now have until next month to do so. The county will post notices and readvertise the proposed expansion.

The controversial Americana Bayside project of Freeman Communities was approved for 1,700 residential units and commercial uses in February 2001.

Freeman Communities will build the sewer system itself.


Campground, Marina Rejected ...

Council unanimously rejected two applications from Merritt Burke III for property in Cedar Creek Hundred near Slaughter Beach.

Burke sought a conditional use in an AR-1 district for a seasonal campground on 43.78 acres and a rezoning from AR-1 to M-Marine for a marina on another 25 acres adjacent to the proposed campground.

Council rejected the conditional use application for the campground by a 3-2 vote and the rezoning to M-Marine by a 5-0 vote.

Burke originally sought permission for 282 campsites including 75 primitive sites for tent campers but the county's Planning and Zoning Commission recommended no more than 100 seasonal and 30 primitive sites.

County staff then added other conditions, including that the campground only be opened from April 1 to Oct. 31 each year and that all vehicles be removed from the site by Oct. 31.

Council President Dale Dukes and Councilman Vance Phillips voted for the conditional use, while Councilmen George Cole, Lynn Rogers and Finley B. Jones voted against the proposal.

Rogers said the application "got off on the wrong foot" when Burke didn't educate the public well enough about his intentions for the campground.

"The perception we received from the public was that on Sunday night, it was going to be like Dover Downs," said Rogers.

Rogers said Burke should resubmit the application showing his exact plans.

"This would give him the opportunity to drop the project or come back in with a plan with the conditions built in and all the amenities associated with it and go to the local residents with a full plan showing exactly what he plans to do," said Rogers.

Rogers said if the campground is eventually approved it will be an improvement to the "junkyard that has been there from 1948 to now".

As for the rezoning from AR-1 to M-Marine, all of the council members expressed reservations about the wide range of uses that could be put into a Marine district, including industrial or high-density residential developments.

Cole also expressed concern that the proposal was to rezone the entire 68-acre parcel, including the 43 acres for the campground, to M-Marine. He moved that only the 24.51 acres for the proposed marina be rezoned but was voted down 3-2.

"I'd rather see the thing turned down," said Dukes. "I don't think we should redesign his plan for him. I think the applicant should have the opportunity to come back with a conditional use. I agree that the Marine district is too large, but I don't agree with the amendment (to decrease its size)."

Burke can still use the existing boat slips on the property.


Landscaping Business Rejected ...

Council unanimously rejected a proposed conditional use in an AR-1 district for retail sales of landscaping supplies on 12.55 acres in Indian River Hundred.

The rejection means the owner, L. Thomas Harmon, must remove existing stockpiles of mulch within 90 days.

Harmon sought the conditional use for the property north of Route 280B but was rejected due to council members' concerns about its proximity to a residential neighborhood and that the proposed site was not in a development district as defined by the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

"I've known Mr. Harmon for many years," said Council President Dale Dukes. "He's a very good landscaper and does very good work. However, the proposed use of the land in a non-development district, a commercial entity in a residential area, is not the proper place for it."

The county's planning and zoning commission recommended denial of the application on Nov. 8.


In Other Business ...
  • Council will not meet again until Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2002, at 10 a.m.

  • County offices will be closed for the holidays on Monday, Dec. 24, and Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2001, and Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2002.

  • Council agreed to reopen the petitioning process in the Wil King Road renaming controversy. Council was asked to reconsider the Wil King Road renaming by residents on the road who felt council had not followed its own policy for renaming roads. Residents on Wil King Road may submit petitions until Jan. 8, 2002. The issue will be placed on the county's agenda on Jan. 22. Dennis Norwood, the county's director of addressing, told council that 75 percent of the residents on the road must approve the renaming.

  • Council voted 5-0 to approve the expansion of the South Bethany Sanitary Sewer District and the Ocean View Expansion of the Bethany Beach Sanitary Sewer District to include The Reserves subdivision south of Ocean View and west of South Bethany. The Reserves, a 185-unit development, is roughly half in the South Bethany district and half in the Ocean View expansion of the Bethany district.

  • County Administrator Robert L. Stickels told council that he has received a request for an appeal of a denial for the proposed Country Meadows subdivision by the planning and zoning commission. He said the appeal would be placed on the Jan. 8 agenda.

  • Stickels also told council that the Superior Court of Kent County upheld the county Board of Adjustment's rejection of a request for a variance from the Lowe's home improvement store in Lewes for a water tower.

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