Keep the public in public hearings
Citizens recently turned out to oppose a new 7-Eleven at the corner of Angola Road and Route 24.
The developer says it’s a prime location for a convenience store, chosen for convenience of residents. But residents say the project is out of scale for the neighborhood, and there are plenty of convenience stores nearby, one less than 2 miles away. They also say the site is adjacent to a wellhead protection area and that possible polluted runoff could threaten residential wells. One resident called building on top of an aquifer within 100 feet of a wellhead area “inconceivable.”
Concluding the hearing, council left the record open to question staff and state agencies, who then have 30 days to respond.
But once county staff gives council the answers, the public then has only five calendar days to respond.
The trouble is no one knows exactly when or how much information will be presented. So why, then, would council give the public only five days to respond?
Council President Mike Vincent’s only answer is that five calendar days has been long-standing policy.
This policy merits an urgent update. Agency responses will be provided during a Tuesday council meeting, leaving the public only three working days to analyze the information and respond.
Why would council give the public – including the people most affected by this decision – almost no time to have their say? This tiny window does not allow a true opportunity to ensure the public’s answering data and information are part of the public record.
In denying a zoning change for this project last year, council suggested the developer seek a conditional use. But offering that path should not be a guarantee that a conditional use will be approved – especially a use that will so completely change what is now a rural Sussex County intersection.
There’s no need to rush any land-use decision. Council should give residents the same 30-day window to respond that it gives state agencies, and then make a decision based on a full review of the record.