Land use and coastal flooding are two major challenges Lewes residents say their city faces over the next 10 years.
With the help of the University of Delaware, residents took part in an information-gathering session June 11 that will aid the planning commission in making decisions for the 2015 comprehensive plan update. Ed Lewandowski, coastal communities development specialist with UD, moderated the two-hour gathering, guiding residents to focus on specific topics they may want to see addressed.
Lewandowski zeroed in on residents' wants, needs and concerns through the help of electronic polling technology. About 45 residents participated, giving the room a good sampling of citizen issues.
When asked what the biggest challenges facing Lewes were, poll results showed land use and annexation was the top concern. Next came inland and coastal flooding, transportation and parking and the city's aging population.
Much of the discussion that followed involved ongoing and future annexation. Resident Ric Moore said the city should grow toward Route 1 rather than in environmentally fragile areas, like the Great Marsh.
“I'm in favor of annexation in the right places,” he said. “We should be migrating away from sea-level rise. It seems to me that should be a central focus when we look at the future.”
Annexation is one of the reasons the state began requiring certified comprehensive plans in 2001, said Connie Holland, the state planning coordinator.
“A lot of the local jurisdictions were annexing with no rhyme or reason or infrastructure or any planning,” she said.
By putting the force of law behind the plans, she said, it made all municipalities accountable for their planning decisions. However, she said, annexation is the best way to ensure growth happens the way the city wants.
“I always feel that if you want to control your own destiny maybe you should take it into your local jurisdiction,” she said. “In my 40 years of working in planning, I've found out that as much as we love cooperation and we wish that the counties and towns could have a vote in what each other is doing, I don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime.”
Resident Gail vanGilder, chair of the city's historic and scenic byways committee, said the city needs to offer an attractive package to convince developers to annex and then build within the town.
“We're always in a ping-pong game about annexation,” she said. “We always end up in this competition with the county, but there's always the decision on the developer's part that if they go to the county can they get more than they can get from Lewes? If we continue down that road, we're never going to win.”
When asked about quality-of-life issues, polling showed residents were most interested in protecting natural resources, uncongested roads and affordable housing.
Resident Mike Tyler said Lewes has lost its sense of community and has become a bedroom community for affluent people to buy second homes.
“We used to have block parties,” he said. “There were people on our block that we knew. What has happened is that sense of community has diluted or thinned out.”
Resident Rachel Grier Reynolds disagreed, saying many of those people are greatly contributing, like with the farmers market, the library expansion or the Dragon Boat Races.
“In the last 10 years so many things have happened to make our town so much more exciting and so much more vibrant,” she said.
Residents were asked about each of the city's six core values, and the polling system showed each was still considered of high importance to Lewes citizens. Dennis Forney, Lewes resident and publisher of the Cape Gazette, said planning the city's future around its core values is the smart way to move forward.
“These core values are things about your community that you never want to lose,” he said. “They are so essential that they are the things you lie in the street in front of the bulldozer to keep someone from doing it.”
When making decisions, he said, the city should lay each issue against the core values. If it goes against the core values, then ordinances need to be passed. The core values could easily be used in the comp plan process, he said.
Planning Commission Chairman Mike Mahafie agreed, saying the commission should also lay the core values against past decisions.
“At some point I think we need to take a clear-eyed look at where we failed the core values in the last 10, 15, 20 years because we have. We can all see that in some places,” he said.
Moving forward, Planning Commission Vice Chair Kay Carnahan said she expects to get a draft of the comp plan to mayor and city council by January. From there, a draft will be submitted for state planning's PLUS review in summer 2015, and Carnahan said it could be ready for certification from the governor by October.
She said there will be several more opportunities for public participation over the next year as the commission begins to develop the plan and form recommendations. Mahafie expects the new plan to have fewer recommendations than the last.
“One of the things that I think we did a little bit wrong in the 2005 plan is that we included every recommendation we could think of in the plan,” he said. “I've heard it said that if everything is important than nothing is important.”
Lewandowski said if there is one thing Lewes cannot be accused of, it is a lack of effort and participation.
“I can't think of another municipality in Sussex County that has gone through as extensive, as comprehensive and as lengthy a set of planning initiatives as the city of Lewes,” he said.
To view Lewes' current comprehensive plan, go to ci.lewes.de.us and click the plans and maps tab on the left side of the page.