Groome’s sale of property disheartening

September 14, 2017

Contrary to proclaiming any good news, the Sept. 8 Cape Gazette's front page headlines only contained disturbing news.

I know that I am not the only member of the Lewes community to be surprised and dismayed to read that the Groome United Methodist Church has entered into a contract to sell more than 150 acres located on New Road in Lewes. The purchaser is an unnamed developer.

The depth of my disappointment with Groome's Minister Crossan, its board of trustees and its finance committee is profound.

How could a church whose own mission statement includes such hope-filled language as "serving the needs of people in our community" turn its collective back on the larger community it is committed to serving? Who would suggest that it is not a "need" of the community to co-exist with this fragile coastal plain upon which we reside without adding to the risk of flooding caused by the kind of extensive development of sensitive areas this sale would facilitate?

Unfortunately, these are not rhetorical questions. The answer appears to be rather straightforward, and is hardly original: Greed.

From the explanation offered, it would appear that Groome's leadership would have us think that it was the only organization that suffered a financial setback when the economy soured in 2007 and 2008. If myopia is the cause for this delusion, allow me to be the messenger of this bit of reality: All institutions, including companies large and small, states, federal and local governments, and yes, even Temples of God, were affected by the economic downturn.

Individuals too were served a healthy dose of reality during the economic upheaval when large amounts of personal wealth were wiped out by the collapse of the real estate market. Collectively we all suffered, and collectively we have all recovered (to the extent that recovery is complete).

And yet, it is Groome's ability to weather the economic storm that appears to be somewhat unique. Rather than suffering a loss of cash reserves, stocks and bonds re-evaluations, Groome's asset is in the form of land, a 150-plus acre tract that was bequeathed to the church.

For the term of its ownership, the land has not represented an unfunded liability on Groome's balance sheet. There is no mortgage to satisfy, nor an annual property tax obligation as the land is deeded to a church, exempting it from the county property tax rolls.

The New Road acreage provides Groome with the means to reach a financial safe harbor that leaves everyone in the community envious. Who amongst us would not like to have no risk, and everything to gain, when engaged in a commercial transaction? However, being sheltered in calm waters while the community that has been your home for 113 years is threatened by your actions is no way to treat your neighbor, I would suggest. Neither shortsightedness nor single-mindedness is a virtuous quality when a greater community is put at risk by one's actions.

I encourage the Groome congregation to discuss this matter with Minister Crossan and the Groome board.

Reconsider your decision to sell this land to a developer. Return to the negotiating table where you will be met with familiar faces, many of whom are your Lewes neighbors, whose sole focus is to preserve a piece of what makes this area unique. Allow the parcel to be purchased at a fair price, and placed in permanent preservation.

My disappointment in the Groome church is tempered learning that elected public officials including Sussex County Councilman IG Burton, Sen. Ernie Lopez, Mayor Ted Becker partnering with JG Townsend Jr. and Company, (as well as other non-elected members of the Lewes community), have done the right thing, negotiating quietly with Minister Crossan. An earnest effort to dissuade Groome from selling to the highest bidder has been made. My hat is off to you for your efforts. I hope that one day soon I will be able to tip my hat to Groome's congregation for doing the right thing, as well.

Tim Ritzert

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