After 32 years on Sussex County Council, George Cole says it’s time

June 12, 2018

After 32 years as a Sussex County councilman, the longest tenure of any council member ever, George Cole says it’s time.

Time for the county to quit rezoning for higher density.

Time for chambers of commerce to quit trying to attract more tourists.

Time to require greater building setbacks from wetlands.

Time to quit using wetlands acreage in determining permitted units per acre.

Time to quit building large parking lots in the dunes.

Time to hire an in-house attorney for the county.

And, after eight consecutive terms, Cole says it’s time for him to step down.

He would be up for re-election this year, but: “I’ve made up my mind and pretty much decided I’m going to call it quits. I will be 68 this year, and I think it’s a good time to move on. It’s been a great job that I’ve enjoyed very much. It’s kept me involved; I’ve met lots of great people, and I have some ideas making their way into our new land-use plan. People are listening. It’s a good time to go.”

Cole succeeded his mother, Kitty Cole, who was appointed to fill the 4th Councilmanic District seat of her husband, Charlie Cole. Charlie Cole died mid-term of heart complications.

“I was just 36 then and fighting windmills,” said Cole. “So much bothered me about the way the county was developing.” He watched his father succeed in reducing county height limits and the permitted densities that allowed Sea Colony to build high-rises along the coast at 32 units per acre. “There was a big outcry, and we were able to reduce those densities to 18 units per acre in commercial zones. Then we reduced that further to 12 units per acre, and that’s only allowed in lands that were previously zoned C-1.”

The building height limit in Sussex now stands at 42 feet, and that’s the way Cole feels it should stay. “Places without high-rises appeal to me. People prefer the coast of Sussex County to Ocean City - they shop with their wallets. Look at land values here compared to there.”

His vision of Sussex County is a place of low density vs. high density.

“We were sitting in a land-use planning meeting recently, and the consultants said it’s projected the county will grow by another 40,000 people by 2035 or something like that. They said we have to get ready for those people. And they showed proposed land-use maps with new areas allowing higher density than the two units per acre permitted across the county in our agricultural-residential (AR-1) zone. They said those higher-density zones should take care of the increased population. But why should I be concerned about future population? I’m interested in who lives here now - they should be our priority.”

Cole said it concerns him that local, regional and state chambers of commerce continue to promote Sussex for additional tourism. “We’re getting enough now. Let’s do a better job with them - make their quality of life better. Taking the 6 [million] or 7 million annual visitors we get now up to 10 million annually will just diminish my quality of life. And all these park and rides? They’re trying to accommodate all. I don’t care if more people don’t come here. Enough are coming anyway.

“We’re going to have sprawl because of our zoning,” said Cole. “I’d rather it be low-density sprawl than high density. It will create less congestion. Single-family homes are what most people want, and they’re better for the local economy. Building them employs more local tradesmen, and the occupants buy more furniture and appliances locally. And those people become stakeholders. They’re the ones who show up and speak at our hearings.”

He said the county needs its own in-house attorney so it doesn’t have to wait in line behind other clients that contracted attorneys also have. He also feels the planning and zoning, and engineering staffs need to be beefed up “to handle any workload we’re faced with.” And he feels the county should consider incentives to encourage development on the west side of the county while adding restrictions that could slow things on the east side. “In between, I’d like to see rural stay rural.”

Over Cole’s 32 years in office, the population of Sussex County has nearly doubled.

“I remember a few years ago going to Rehoboth on a July 7 to spend the day on the beach with my mom, my wife and a couple of the kids. She was in her 80s then. She’s in her 90s now. We could barely negotiate our way down the Boardwalk and along the beach to the place where we had always gone as a family. Umbrellas were touching; chairs were touching. It’s not like it was when I was growing up.”

Cole, who lives and works in Bethany Beach, said he feels Sussex still has a pretty good balance between developed and undeveloped. “We’re still desirable. We have low taxes and beautiful beaches. It’s a golden goose. I just hope that those on council in the future understand how important it is to keep the coastal area a desirable place.”



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