With a 2-2 vote, Sussex council denies Freeman project

Company had proposed hotel and restaurant on 9-acre parcel along Route 54 near Fenwick Island
October 12, 2021

Story Location:
Lighthouse Road
Bennett Avenue
Fenwick Island, DE 19944
United States

With a 2-2 vote by Sussex County Council at its Oct. 12 meeting, a conditional-use application for a hotel and restaurant off Route 54 near Fenwick Island was defeated. Applications require three positive votes to be adopted.

Carl M. Freeman Companies had filed an application to build a 70-room hotel and 8,500-square-foot restaurant with outdoor seating on a 9-acre parcel at the intersection of Route 54 (Lighthouse Road) and Bennett Road.

The projects were part of an overall plan for the total 118-acre parcel, which includes an approved 70-lot cluster subdivision. The parcel contains 82 acres of wetlands and 35 acres of uplands.

District 5 Councilman John Rieley, who represents the area where the proposed project would have been located, made the motion for denial based on several reasons he read in a prepared statement. District 1 Council President Mike Vincent also voted against the application.

District 3 Councilman Mark Schaeffer and District 2 Councilwoman Cindy Green voted in favor of the application.

District 2 Councilman Doug Hudson had recused himself because of a potential conflict of interest at the original council public hearing and did not vote.

The 2-2 vote mirrored the vote taken by the planning and zoning commission.

Rieley said the site is built up with years of dredging spoils. “With the proposed impervious surface of this project on artificially elevated land, there will be a risk of flooding and rain runoff polluting an environmentally sensitive area. This project is too intensive for this area,” he said.

He said because of its environmental importance, the parcel should be protected.

Rieley listed many of the same reasons for denial that were pointed out by a strong showing of public opposition to the application, including more than 300 letters and emails against the project in the public record.

The councilman said the project was incompatible and out of scale with an area dominated by residential housing and small businesses on small tracts of land. “No similar uses exist,” he said. “It will increase traffic congestion in an area with a congested roadway.”

He said state transportation officials did not address all aspects of the project, and that a hotel would be better suited along an area such as Route 1 where other hotels are located, with a four-lane highway for access.

In turn, Schaeffer made a motion for approval, saying proposed road improvements would help ease some of the traffic issues in the area. Among those improvements would have been a new traffic signal at the intersection. He said the parcel was an ideal location adjacent to other commercial areas for the project, and strict buffer conditions would protect the environment.

Several residents attended the council meeting planning to speak about the application during the public comment period. County attorney Everett Moore reminded them that public comments are no longer accepted after the public record on an application has been closed.

“Their decision has to be based only on the record,” he said. “We can't entertain any comments to influence the council.”

Freeman Companies respond

The company issued the following statement: “Obviously, we are disappointed with the decision – particularly since the proposal was in accordance with Sussex County’s comprehensive land use plan and zoning codes. We are currently considering all our options for the development of the property. We are proud of our history and track record of creating beautiful, award-winning communities and elevating lifestyles in southeastern Sussex County, and we look forward to continuing that legacy.”

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