We all have power to change uncontrolled development

January 3, 2014

I wanted to share my understanding of the process between the state and Sussex County when a big development is proposed and what I believe is a real problem in the planning process. We need to hold our county council and state senators and representatives responsible for what is going on in the eastern side of the county. I have heard numerous times from our elected state leaders that land use is a county issue and not the state’s. Not true! Several state agencies are involved in the process including: DelDOT, DNREC, Department of Agriculture, and the state planning commission, to name a few.

When a developer begins the process for getting a zoning approval to build a development or RV park they file with the county council and the process begins. However, prior to this they have met with state agencies. If it is a large development, DelDOT says that the developer needs a traffic study. Then the developer hires its own traffic consulting firm to do the study. If these studies are closely read, sometimes the direction the roads run are not even correct. The study is then 95 percent of the time approved by DelDOT with some minor suggestions. However, none of these studies ever take into consideration all of the developments that have already been approved, but not yet built.

Currently, there are housing developments approved by the council on a total of 983 acres with the potential of 1,369 new homes in the area immediately surrounding the proposed RV park on Cedar Grove Road. None of these were considered in the developer's traffic study for the RV park on Cedar Grove Road that was approved by DelDOT. When this happens, the developers are not held responsible for putting up the money to make road improvements except for immediately in front of the development. Who ends up paying for this? We do -the taxpayers - while the developers walk away with their money.

I believe we need to hold our state and county council officials liable at the voting booth if they are not protecting our interests. The state elected officials need to take a close look at DelDOT and make the necessary changes that would make traffic studies work for all of us. The process for the approval of a development also happens at the state level with agency reviews prior to coming to the county council and planning & zoning. This review process needs to be reviewed and strengthened. Finally, three people on the county council make all the decisions on what goes on in land use in the county. They make the appointments to planning & zoning and the board of adjustment. Three people!

The county council needs to be held liable for passing a land use ordinance, but never passing the supporting ordinances that would strengthen it and preclude the ability for the developers to file lawsuits so easily. It is outrageous that a council member cannot attend community meetings where legislation they are considering is being discussed. Where is that written or not written? We need supporting ordinances. Finally, this county needs a certified planner to oversee what is going on around any development that is being proposed and to make rational recommendations that will halt this uncontrolled development.

I will end with a couple of direct quotes from a council member and planning & zoning board member:

Quote from a council member who always votes for every development on the east side of the county, concerning moving the Social Security office from Georgetown to Lewes: the county councilman said he strongly opposed the move because Lewes area roads can be quite crowded in the summer, and he didn’t want people in his southern Sussex County district to have to drive there to get Social Security help. “The idea of traveling north on Route 1 in the summertime to get to the Social Security office is almost nightmarish. It’s more convenient for most of the county to go to Georgetown.” News Journal 11/14/13.

Quote from a planning & zoning board member when voting for the RV park:

“I can assure you we vote for a great deal of things we don’t like. As the record has proven whenever we act outside the ordinance we tend to get overturned and usually sued and fined in the process. It has happened a couple of times. The message from the courts is loud and clear: it’s all about the ordinance. I think their avenue for change is the polling place. Show up on Nov. 4, 2014. The (County) Council is the group that can change the ordinance.” 8/27/13

I am going to be asking questions of all the candidates who come to my door asking for my vote in November,  What are you going to do about all this uncontrolled development? I will not accept from any candidates for any offices on the county or state level that it is not their responsibility, because all of them have the ability to change some part of the process.

Betty Deacon

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