Planning for Lewes' future is the goal of about 100 residents from various groups who attended the inaugural meeting of the Lewes Community Partnership Jan. 26.
“We've had a number of organizations that have picked this issue or that issue,” said Richard Moore, a founder of the new partnership. “Frequently, it would be just an ad hoc group that formed then disbanded. We can't just form and disband. We've got to be able to support a longer term effort that keeps the information available.”
The goal of the partnership, Moore said, is to unite all Lewes community groups for an open dialogue about the city's future, a forum for residents to air their wants and desires for the city's growth. Represented at the meeting were members of Citizens Advocating Livable Lewes, Safe and Livable Lewes, residents from various communities and elected officials Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes; Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton; and Sussex County Councilwoman Joan Deaver.
“Lawrence Lank, who ran the planning and zoning department, has given notice,” she said. “He's there 43 years. Things will change. We're looking for someone to take over the department of planning and zoning, and some of us want a certified planner and some of us don't.”
Deaver's comment was news to Lank. When contacted Jan. 27, Lank said, he has not given notice and he wished he had a dollar for every time he's been asked if he is retiring.
“I have stated that I would like to retire in the near future, but I have not yet submitted a formal retirement notice,” he said. Sussex County's Chief of Public Information Chip Guy said he was not aware of Lank's intentions.
“He has made no announcement, formal or otherwise, and I have no idea what his plans are or whether the county will make any statement at that time,” Guy said. “I assume, though, we would acknowledge it in some way, simply because of his length of service and his prominent position, but if and when Lawrence decides to leave, and how, should be on his terms and no one else's.”
Ron MacArthur contributed to this story.
“What we all discovered is that we had a lot of interests in common,” Moore said. “We did not always agree on everything, but that's why we wanted to bring everyone together, so all the voices in the community can be heard.”
The city's next comprehensive development plan update is due in 2015, so much of the conversation was geared toward Lewes over the next 10 years, specifically the need for smart growth.
“I don't think anyone is trying to stop development,” said Bob Dillman, who served as moderator. “We want it to be well done, thought out and something we can live with and not be a liability.”
Max Somers, a member of SALL, said the proposed 34-home Highland Heights community is an example of bad growth. He is against it because it will cut into one of the city's few remaining forested areas between West Fourth Street and Seagull Drive. Proposed projects such as Highland Heights are why citizen groups are important, he said, because they aim to preserve the character that attracted his family to Lewes in the 1980s.
“We immediately fell in love with Lewes. It was a quaint, beautiful, historic town,” he said. “However, now we are very worried about what the developers are trying to do to it. I think they are, if they can, getting rid of the quaint and beautiful, and we need to fight that as much as we can.”
Many residents were in favor of the city hiring a city planner to focus full time on Lewes' future. But until that day comes, resident Dave Ennis said, the community will have to stay on top of the issues.
“Elected officials don't have all the wisdom in the world,” he said. “It gets very complicated very quickly. That's why we think there is value in citizens who have adequate time or more time perhaps to focus on these things.”
One of the goals of forming the partnership, Moore said, is to tackle issues by providing sound research and historical data so city council and its many panels can make educated, smart decisions.
“This is not to say that in any way we think our elected and appointed officials are doing a bad job,” Moore said. “This is a small town; they are doing the job they can do with the limited number of people. We're saying let's make it better by engaging people with knowledge, motivation and concern.”
For Moore, it all comes down to planning.
“For us, the big message in all of this is how do we move from short-term reaction to long-term reality in our planning and implementation in Lewes' future?”
For more information about the group, go to lewescommunitypartnership.org or call 302-827-4092.