Council not the culprit in Fisher’s Cove settlement
As a member recently appointed to the Lewes Planning Commission, I would like to offer my perspective on the recent unfortunate outcome of the Fisher’s Cove settlement.
I have heard several friends and neighbors bemoan what they regard as backroom deals being cut. It is important to understand that when lawsuits were filed by the developer against the mayor and city council and the planning commission, actually naming members (which in my view was a blatant intimidation tactic), it then becomes necessary to be smart about not broadcasting your legal strategy to the opposition. This is a legitimate use of executive session – to discuss the details of the lawsuit and develop a point-by-point strategy for countering it without tipping your hand to the opposing legal team.
MCC made a decision, based on the facts of the case as they saw them, that they did not have a strong enough hand to risk significant legal and financial liability to the city to take on a protracted legal battle with deep-pocket developers that they might very well lose. As Kenny Rogers sings, “know when to fold ’em.”
Many others, certainly including the embattled residents near Fisher’s Cove, wanted to take on the developers and soundly beat them in court. I number myself among that group. But a careful reading of the lawsuit, and the broader legal picture, has led me to a more nuanced conclusion.
In my view, the real culprit here is not the mayor and city council, who acted courageously in supporting the equally courageous and visionary decision of my fellow planning commissioners to deny, it is the subdivision and land development code of the City of Lewes, and to some extent our zoning ordinance. These documents are skewed to favor development, even when it goes against the vision and wishes of the community as expressed in the comprehensive plan and other documents and forums, including the Cape Gazette.
Once a developer has met the minimal requirements of code (much of which is very loosely written) and secured the necessary permissions from state agencies, they are legally permitted to develop their property.
There is some encouraging news. Thanks to the efforts of Lewes Planning Commissioner Dr. Nancy Staisey and others, the LPC is putting forward a significant rewrite of the subdivision code. It is one that will particularly emphasize our cherished value of open space and, frankly, give more authority to the LPC and MCC to deny development that is not in keeping with community values, and make those decisions stick.
Such a rewrite is laborious, detailed work, but it is the real stuff of a functioning democracy. If adopted by MCC, this will be a small, but significant step toward Lewes taking back control of its destiny.