Land-use map change strips property rights

February 3, 2023

Sussex County Council recently held hearings and voted against changing the future land-use map for a parcel across from Cave Neck Road on the east side of Route 1. I believe there is confusion as to what was requested by the two families who own the farm.            

The first important fact to understand is the process of how the fundamental rights of citizens are protected or stripped by government. Two farm families owned and worked this land for generations. This property was always in the future land-use map as a developing area. With a number of public hearings held in front of county council in 2018 and with the farmers’ active participation, it was agreed the land would remain in the Coastal Area (developing area). After consensus was reached by all, public hearings were concluded and the record was closed. The farmers retired to their property knowing there was agreement that their land would remain in the developing area as it had been for years. Subsequently, a county council meeting was held, without notifying the farmers, led by my predecessor to strip the families’ sacred and constitutionally protected property rights. A motion made by my predecessor stripped those rights, and the map designation was changed and approved with no public input. 

Land-use decisions should not be made to reward or punish our political friends or foes and are far too important to be made by settling political scores. They affect our communities for generations and should be made with vision, insight and integrity.

The designations in the land-use map are nothing more than conceptual visions of what the land could be used for. The map designation does not grant approvals for anything. Those approvals, if asked for, would only be granted after public hearings. My vote to have the map reflect what was previously agreed to during the hearing process would not have granted any approvals for anything. It would only have given council, the public and the owners the opportunity to make suggestions for the property’s use. The current map only allows for more houses (theoretically, the land could be used for small retail or commercial uses).

Secondly, an important fact to understand is that about 40 acres of the front of this property will soon be adversely taken by the Department of Transportation, bulldozed and a $75 million superstructure highway will be built through the middle of the farm. This will create an island between the to-be-built bridges, overpasses and access roads. This newly created island parcel is not suitable for farming and certainly not for housing. 

My belief is that we should have had the opportunity to debate and discuss uses other than more houses. After last week’s vote, we can’t do that.

We have a desperate need for Class A office space to accommodate doctors and other professionals. We now have no opportunity to provide a medical campus at this site. I think that is poor planning. We can’t recruit medical professionals if they have nowhere to work.  

Cape Henlopen School District expressed interest in building a campus at this location. We cannot do that now. We can’t even discuss it.

It is interesting to note that there was a large housing development approved at this site on my predecessor’s watch in 2018. Thankfully, the approvals have expired.

As I have stated for years, we need a plan for Route 1 north of Nassau. Making land-use decisions piecemeal is not planning. We have no progressive, cohesive plan. We need one. With full public participation.

Mark G. Schaeffer
Sussex County Council


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