The grassroots organization Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth – SARG – has won the 2019 Inland Bays Foundation Environmental Advocacy Award.
Founders Rich Borrasso, Rich Holtkamp and Jeff Stone were presented with plaques during the foundation's annual Love Our Inland Bays dinner Oct. 23 at Irish Eyes in Lewes. The presentations were made by Foundation President Frances Hart and 2018 winner Chris Bason, executive director of Delaware Center for the Inland Bays.
Bason said because of SARG, Sussex County officials have found a new way of doing business. “There has been a turning point thanks to SARG, with a new era of cooperation and the county working with citizens' groups,” he said.
Group forms to oppose shopping center
SARG was formed to oppose and educate the public about Overbrook Town Center, a proposed 850,000-square-foot shopping center on the east side of Route 1 at the Cave Neck Road intersection north of Lewes.
Sussex County Council denied commercial rezoning for the 114-acre parcel, so the developer instead submitted plans for housing on the property, which has been approved. Borrasso said the project threatened the Great Marsh, located east of the parcel.
“At the culmination of that fight, a number of residents involved realized that this proposed development was only a symptom of a much deeper problem,” Borrasso said.
He said those problems included the county's laissez-faire attitude toward development, lax regulations and even more lax enforcement, as well as Delaware Department of Transportation's inability to foresee or cope with growth in Sussex County.
“We have come a long way since then, but the work continues,” he said.
SARG works to inform, educate and engage the public about unbridled development in Sussex County that harms the natural and built environment, which at times compromises residents' quality of life, Borrasso said.
The group has developed an extensive email list and uses its Facebook page to inform residents about Sussex County government news.
SARG was deeply involved during the creation of the Sussex 2018 comprehensive plan. Borrasso said he and other SARG members attended 32 meetings and commented at most as the plan was developed. He thanked members Sara and Ken Kraft for their tireless work.
SARG represents the public on a county working group charted to review, update and make recommendations to county council for enhancing wetland buffers.
“I think you will be pleased with the progress with potentially doubling the size of buffers on tidal wetlands and tidal waters, and adding buffers on intermittent streams,” he said.
Borrasso thanked Bason, another member of the group, for his expertise and input.
SARG created a coalition of communities in the Route 1 corridor to inform them about nearly $100 million in proposed highway improvement projects. He said residents need to have a seat at the table when highway improvements are proposed.
Borrasso said it was SARG that shed light on the practice of DelDOT officials negotiating agreements with developers without county or public knowledge and involvement.
Recently, he said, SARG revealed the existence of a 38-year-old memorandum of understanding between DelDOT and Sussex County to help plan for rezoning applications. “Had it been enforced, it may have limited and altered the course of development over the past three decades,” he said.
Sussex and transportation officials are in the process of updating the memorandum to possibly include all land-use applications.
“The natural and the built environment must complement each other, and work in harmony to everyone's benefit, short- and long-term,” Borrasso said. “We all know that the balance has been tilted to the built, while dangerously disregarding the natural. The built environment can be replaced, rebuilt and retrofitted; once the natural is gone, it and its benefits for all living beings are gone as well.”
Issues SARG plans to focus on in 2020 include ensuring the coastal zone overlay adopted by county council provides better land-use practices and increased environmental protection and monitoring and working toward implementation of key goals of the county 2018 comprehensive plan.
Project in honor of Austin and Moyer
Hart announced the first project supported by the Austin/Moyer Citizens Advocacy Program is nearing completion. A Citizen's Guide to Environmental Advocacy should be published on the Inland Bays Foundation website in mid-November. The initiative was created to honor late founders John Austin and Bill Moyer. For more information, go to inlandbaysfoundation.org.