Rezoning applicants bear burden of proving their case

September 15, 2013

Recent letters to the Cape Gazette by John Hornyak and Greg Kordal highlighted comments from Planning and Zoning Commissioner Ross on the rationale behind the Commission’s approval of the Love Creek RV park. First, Mr. Ross lectured the attendees that Planning and Zoning needed to adhere to the law, as if the opponents of the RV park, who filled the meeting room, expected laws to be broken or bent on their behalf.

In fact, the existing zoning is the law. It is the developers of the proposed RV park who want to change the law – to the detriment of over 1,000 local residents. Yes, I understand, as Commissioner Ross reminded us, this is not a popularity contest. And yes, the laws of people are and should be adaptable to new situations. However, the burden of proof that a change in zoning is necessary and desirable must lie with those who want the change, a case I argue that many if not most reasonable people would say has not been met. Yet, I came away with the distinct impression that citizens who support the law were held to a higher standard than the developers who want to change the law.

For example, Mr. Ross stated to the effect that testimony from credentialed experts automatically outweighed that of non-credentialed local residents, apparently regardless of the educational or professional backgrounds of the residents or the merit of their arguments. While this shortcut is one way to cut through a massive record opposing a project such as the RV park, it tilts the playing field in favor of moneyed developers who can afford to hire expert testimony.

Even more insidiously, big developers can “lock up” local expertise through other projects they may have. When I attempted to hire a credentialed expert to review my analyses of the RV park, I was turned away on the basis of “conflicts of interest." Certainly expert opinion is an important part of the rezoning process, but the analyses of competent regular citizens must be given due weight.

We necessarily rely on the Planning and Zoning Commission to evaluate fairly the relative merits of a submission. Mr. Ross’ comments make it appear to me that he abrogated this responsibility. Those of us who have made our homes around Love Creek must now appeal to the wisdom of county council to overrule a flawed process and to uphold our rights and preserve the residential and agricultural character of our local community. And to the citizens and residents of Sussex County - this is your future too. We must all hang together.

Steve Britz

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