Sussex County's Planning and Zoning Commission has delayed a decision on a controversial Castaways Bethany LLC project that would bring a water park and RV park to the Ocean View area.
For the second straight meeting, commissioners deferred, voting 4-0, on a recommendation to county council for three applications that would pave the way for a water park, RV park and cottage community off Cedar Neck Road near Ocean View.
The proposed project – three applications in one – includes 139 RV campsites at about 2,000 square feet each, a welcome center, nature center, 60 rental duplex cottages and a 7-acre water park including parking. Castaways Bethany LLC is requesting a zoning change from MR, medium density residential, to AR-1, agricultural-residential, for 5 acres within the total parcel; a zoning change from MR to CR-1, commercial-residential, for 1 acre; and then a conditional use to cover the entire 38-acre parcel for the project that would include four zoning districts – AR-1, MR, CR-1 and C-1.
Dozens of residents turned out at the Oct. 11 and Nov. 1 planning and zoning meetings thinking a recommendation on the three applications would be forthcoming. Planning and zoning's public hearing on the applications took place Sept. 6.
On Nov. 1, on the advice of assistant county attorney Vince Robertson, commissioners deferred because only four of five members of the commission were in attendance. On Oct. 11, commissioners deferred because they wanted to review additional material placed on the record. Commissioner Marty Ross was absent at the Nov. 1 meeting.
At least one commissioner will be absent at the Thursday, Nov. 15 meeting, leaving meetings on Thursday, Dec. 6, and Thursday, Dec. 13, as possible dates for the applications again to be placed on the agenda under old business.
The commission normally has a 45-day deadline from the date of a public hearing to make a recommendation to county council. It's county council that makes final decisions on zoning and conditional-use applications.
But in this case, Robertson said, the applicant has waived that requirement.
Robertson said it was in the public's best interest to have all five commissioners present when votes are taken on these applications. “I want to make it clear that we do have a quorum, and we have acted on applications without all five members,” he said. “But I don't recall when it has been one of the larger applications or a controversial one with such a complex record. I think we are acting on strong legal ground.”
In addition, he said, if an appeal were filed, it would be in the county's best interest if all five commissioners – and all five county council members – were present at their respective meeting when voting occurred.
Commission President Bob Wheatley said he was not in favor of the applications being placed on the agenda in the first place and was not prepared to vote.
Commissioner Rodney Smith, who represents the Ocean View area, said he had requested the applications be placed on the agenda and he was prepared to make motions and take a vote but would yield to the attorney's advice.
At the county council public hearing, Lawrence Lank, county director of planning and zoning, said his office had received four petitions with 288 signatures and more than 400 letters, emails and faxes from 21 different communities in opposition to the applications pending before council.