County council work for residents, not developers
At virtually every Sussex County Council meeting, residents testify that development in Sussex County is out of control. Yet over at least the last 10 years, seemingly nothing has happened to change that. Now the county is facing potentially serious financial sanctions from the State of Delaware because of this unmanaged, unplanned growth.
In 2018, Sussex County adopted a genuine, realistic comprehensive plan to guide its future development. Through a multitude of workshops and public hearings over two years, Sussex County residents framed a collective vision for the future of the county. The process provided residents a meaningful opportunity to brainstorm, debate and discuss the future of their community. Such a plan provides continuity over time and gives successive councils a common framework for addressing land-use issues. Now, just over three years into the new unanimously adopted plan that enjoys strong community support, the current county council is considering at least three major changes that would ignore the comp plan and allow high-density zoning for thousands of additional housing units and potentially hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space in areas designated low density, far exceeding what the adopted plan would allow.
Their approval would change the land-use designation of thousands of acres of land scattered throughout the county from “low density” to “developing,” with no compelling rationale to make such a change and providing no benefit to residents, just more traffic, more congestion, more loss of open space, and more air and water pollution. There is no evidence showing that county council’s decision to designate these lands as low density was wrong, except that the current designation does not provide the owners and developers with the highest possible profit margin. Who would benefit from these changes? Only developers. If approved, these changes will allow the property owners/developers to max out the development of these lands and inflate their profits. But it is not the county’s obligation to help developers maximize profits, especially where the existing land-use designations provide the opportunity for a reasonable profit. The residents gain nothing, but lose much.
The State of Delaware has strongly stated its opposition to these changes to the comp plan. Opposition so unusually strong that there is the potential that approving them could cost the county state funding. Transportation, schools, healthcare, housing, water/wastewater; many discretionary funds, used now or in the future by the county could be in jeopardy. And because the state potentially will not fund needs triggered by the ripple effect of undesirable development, the residents will also pay for the privilege of gifting developers maximized profits, most likely through increased taxes. Must the residents pay so developers can reap oversized profits?
On Jan. 4, the county council will meet to decide if, in spite of the state’s opposition, they will move forward and approve these changes. If they do, and the state withholds funds, these developments will not only cause disruption to the lives of the nearby residents, but do harm to every resident of the county regardless of where they live and create conflict with critical state agencies. Isn’t a governing body supposed to conduct business in the “public interest?”
Council should now be focused on “what is the right thing to do?” within the context of the adopted plan. Instead, it appears that some council members are focused on a bogus turf war with the state about who has authority to make land-use decisions, diverting attention from the real issue. This turf war will take on a life of its own, distracting everyone from the all-too-real issues ultimately at stake. It is not about the state versus the county. It is the county versus residents and the comp plan. If these changes are approved, the county would be trashing its own adopted development plan that defines where development should and should not happen; a plan developed through a robust public input process with solid community support. Now, because it is inconvenient to developers, the county could be poised to disregard that plan and allow high-intensity, high-density growth to happen in places that it had previously determined it should not, and possibly lose state funding as a bonus. Should that happen, the council’s priorities would strain credibility, shine a light on unsavory political allegiances, and demonstrate a reckless disregard for the public’s interests! More unplanned, disorderly growth scattered throughout the countryside is not the solution. It is the problem.
Approving these proposed changes would be a complete breach of faith with the residents. The message it would send is:
We don’t care about your opinion, your quality of life, your investment in your home and neighborhood, wherever in the county that may be. We don’t feel a need to keep our promises made to residents when we adopted the comprehensive plan. We care about the developers and we will take care of them. We think residents’ time and effort spent on building a forward-looking comprehensive plan is window dressing and to be used only when it helps justify business as usual, which is satisfying developer’s desire for higher profits.
Obviously, I am one frustrated resident. I know there are many others like me, but apparently not enough to force the county to change its ways.
The usual divide-and-conquer tactics don’t apply here. This is not an eastern Sussex or Lewes issue. From Fenwick to Delmar to Seaford to Millsboro, Milford and Rehoboth and out to Ellendale and Greenwood, approval of these developer requests will harm every community. If you feel like I do, now is the time to let the council know how you feel and to make your feelings known next November at the polls. Please help stop this madness. Make the council hear you.
Tell your council representative to stand up for you, not developers, and simply vote to maintain the integrity and viability of your comprehensive plan by turning down these proposed changes. This is important and your voice matters.
Enough is enough!