For Lewes, a new understanding and need for planning

April 24, 2014

Lewes is a wonderful small city with great amenities. However, it is the very same attributes that are becoming problematic for its future development and management.

For the better part of 400 years, development in Lewes was by, for and about the local people who lived here. The type of development, a new house, a Second Street store, a canalfront warehouse, a boat pier, could be understood best by folks with local knowledge. Over time, residents developed most of the good, high, and dry building sites, leaving the marginal land (wetlands and marches) undeveloped.

Most certainly times have changed. Today, the city's land use development choices and management are under great pressure. The problems are complex. There is a diminished inventory of buildable land and increased pressure to build no matter what. One only needs to look at the plans recently submitted for approval as proof of the strain on the environment and good planning. In addition, the city is faced with recorded sea level rise and increasing intensity of coastal storms.

Not only is our appointed planning commission dealing with these problems, they are operating under a process for approval or denial that was created decades ago under different circumstances. Everyone in the present planning process, including volunteer members, attorneys and building officials, are trying their best to make decisions in this rapidly changing scientific and complex environment. The demands are great. More often than not, the decisions require indepth knowledge and understanding of geologic and oceanic impact, not only on the proposed projects but on the community at large.

Today in 2014, many Lewes residents recognize the current process as inadequate to address current and future complicated planning issues. Citizens are asking the city council for a certified, full-time planner, an updated planning process, and an integrated planning team supported by the planner (including Parks and Recreation, Mitigation, Bike and Pedestrian, Historic Preservation Commission and Byways).

Planners build consensus around a shared vision.

They are skilled at bridging interests for comprehensive, common benefit and common ground agreements, and reducing threats (and costs) of lawsuits. Planners are whole-system thinkers that bring together physical, social, economic, and environmental management. They also support elected officials pro-actively planning for the future, and secure grants for the common good of the city ( i.e. seniors "age in place,” historical preservation, green streets, economic vitality, fiscal rating and flood insurance discounts). They follow through using land-use processes with vision and coordination. Moreover, it would be ideal if the city partnered with the Board of Public Works in supporting a full-time planner to ensure and coordinate the development efforts of both entities.

Clearly, the issues are challenging but they also present wonderful opportunities. If we are willing to recognize and support the need for a full-time planner, and enhance the current approval and denial planning process, Lewes could become a model for an ecologic and historic, well planned and safe city by the sea.

John Mateyko
Robert Dillman Ph.D

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