Collaboration better than confrontation
Land in and around Lewes zoned for residential development, as with most similar land in coastal Sussex, will be developed. Because of the quality of life that beaches, parks, trails, rivers, bays and ocean offer, the only way to forestall development and preserve more open space will be through negotiations with landowners for outright purchases, donations or purchase of conservation easements.
Knowing that, the sooner Lewes residents, planning commission and council members adopt a stance of cooperation and collaboration, the better.
This week, Sussex County Planning and Zoning reviewed revised plans for the proposed Showfield community on the edge of Lewes corporate limits.
Before the economic crisis of 2008 chilled the overheated development market, owners of Showfield reached out to the Lewes community in a textbook example of how to constructively engage in a collaborative process. Two or three charettes brought out interested citizens who were asked to offer their ideas on the best ways to develop this valuable property.
The ultimate plan, which received preliminary planning approval, included a mix of housing types, areas of open space, interior trails and natural areas. It also included an easement donated by the landowners for the ultimate extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail into Lewes to help bypass the dangerous bicycling conditions on Gills Neck Road.
Annexation proceedings for making the land part of Lewes started, but everything came to a halt when the real estate bubble burst.
Now, citing economy changes and concerns about how long projects take to make their way through the Lewes process - with contentious proceedings and often-adversarial attitudes as part of the backstory - the owners have abandoned their annexation plans and moved to pro-development Sussex County for approval of their subdivision plans.
Collaborations offer opportunities to find common ground and address legitimate concerns for the benefit of all concerned. When frustrated landowners give up on Lewes annexation discussions, the community loses its most important opportunity to shape the future use of surrounding lands.