Lewes hires firm to fill planner position

Consultant has long history with municipal planning
Lewes Mayor and City Council have tapped Environmental Resources Management for its planning consultant position. The planning commission has already asked to utilize the firm's services. BY NICK ROTH
July 30, 2014

Lewes Mayor and City Council has chosen Environmental Resources Management to fill its newly created planner position.

Council voted unanimously July 14 to authorize the mayor, city manager and city solicitor to negotiate and execute a one-year contract with the 5,000-employee worldwide corporation.

“I'm very confident that this is a good fit for us,” said Mayor Ted Becker.

The city received four responses to its request for proposals for the part-time planning position. Of the applicants, two were firms and two were individuals, Becker said. One individual withdrew, so the city moved forward with interviews with the three remaining candidates.

Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said ERM stood out as the clear choice.

“I believe ERM is well positioned to provide guidance on planning on important land-use and other issues facing the city,” she said. “I am confident that ERM is the best choice.”

ERM was founded in the United Kingdom in 1971 and in the United States in 1977. The two branches merged in 1987. The company has continued its growth in recent years with the acquisition of several other companies, expanding its net around the world.

Becker said he heard hesitation from residents who were unsure about partnering with a large corporation. Little information is offered on its website to demonstrate its abilities working with small municipalities. However, Becker learned through the interview process that ERM has a long history of municipal work, including work on many of the same issues Lewes is currently facing.

Among others, ERM has worked with the town of Elkton, Md., on its comprehensive plan; Bel Air, Md., on its zoning districts; Centreville, Md., on code review and revision; and Annapolis on updates to flood plain ordinances.

To test its abilities, Becker said, ERM was presented with a scenario in which the city would need advice. He said the response was quick and satisfactory.

“We were very impressed with their response in a very short time, how they went about analyzing the situation and coming up with ideas,” he said.

The task-based contract has a cap of $50,000 and may be extended at the discretion of city council. Becker said the number of projects ERM will work on is unknown at this time and may depend on the complexity of the issues. ERM's hourly rates vary from $92 per hour to $191 per hour.

Planning commission taps consultant

Just two days after mayor and city council agreed to hire ERM as its part-time planner, the city's planning commission presented the city with what could be the firm's first task. Commissioners voted unanimously to refer the marine-commercial zoning issue to ERM. The action must be approved by city council.

Earlier this year, city council voted unanimously to place a moratorium on special exceptions within the marine-commercial zone. The special exceptions were allowing developers to build townhouses with very little difficulty. Two projects have been approved on the stretch of Savannah Road east of the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal. Some residents and city officials are concerned more townhouses may change the landscape of that section of Lewes.

Commissioners have had several lengthy conversations about its expectations for future growth of the Lewes Beach side of Savannah Road. While constructive, commissioners are struggling with how to move forward.

“I'm not hearing unanimity on how to approach this,” said Chair Mike Mahaffie. “I think we all have the same sort of idea of what we want, but how to get there is the challenge.”

The moratorium is in place until Nov. 11, but may be extended by council if needed.

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