Sussex County Delaware

P&Z Recommends
Denial of Seacoast
Harness Request

Planning & Zoning ...

Cites Likelihood of
Slot Machine Gambling

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The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission has unanimously recommended denial of a request for a conditional use that would allow harness racing at Seacoast Speedway on U.S. 113 near Georgetown.

The 5-0 decision came at a public hearing late Thursday night, May 25, 2000, according to a spokesperson in the Planning & Zoning office. Bruce Rogers, attorney for opponents to the request, said on Friday, May 26, that county council would discuss the issue at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, June 6.

P&Z deferred a decision after a May hearing and Sussex County Council deferred its decision at a public hearing on Tuesday, May 23, until it received a recommendation from planning and zoning.

Lawrence Lank, director of the Planning & Zoning office, said on Friday that the commission was most concerned about the possibility of slot machine gambling at the track.

Lank said the commissioners didn't feel the harness track would be viable on its own and would need slot machine gambling to support it as has been the case at Harrington and Dover Downs.

Further, because the state regulates casino gambling, the county would have no say in whether the track's owners could eventually install slot machines at the harness track or how a casino would be operated.

Robert V. Witsil, Jr., the attorney for the track's owners, Al and Bunnie Williams, said the application did not include a request to add slot machines.

The Williams had applied for the conditional use to build a harness track, grandstand and paddock and hold races there two months a year. They currently operate a stock car race track at the site south of Georgetown during the summer.

The Williams said the track would help the local economy in Georgetown take advantage of the summer tourist business at the nearby Delaware beaches, but opponents expressed concerns about increased noise, traffic, drunkenness, gambling addiction and lawlessness, and the possibility of slot machines.

Rogers said he was most encouraged by the commission's unanimous opposition to the application.

"Quite frankly, it's reassuring that it was a 5-0 vote," said Rogers. "Mr. Allen (planning commission member John L. Allen) was not there for the presentations, but it's nice to see that he agreed with the other members that this is not the type of use we need in a residential area just outside of Georgetown."

County councilman George Cole said on Friday, May 26, that council shouldn't be concerned with issues such as gambling when it makes its decision.

He said that the stock car track is already a non-conforming use in a residential area and that council should only legitimately look at the impact that the expansion of a non-conforming use would have on the surrounding area.

"The gambling area, we're not involved in that," said Cole. "We need to address the land use issues and try to stay away from the other things. Most of the people are concerned about gambling and how gambling would affect morals, but horse racing is a legal type of gambling that has been around forever, so that argument doesn't impress me much.

"Over the years, you look at the rest of the area to see if there's been a change in character, and actually, there's been really nothing in the last 40 years that has changed much there. As a council, we need to look at expanding on the present use as a land use decision. That is where the county should be focused and where I will be focused, on traffic and property values."

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