Letter: Developers should foot bill for infrastructure

February 8, 2019

I was born and raised in Northern Delaware on my Grandfather Weer’s old farm at 125 Old Churchman’s Road in New Castle across the street from the Greater Wilmington Airport, which was mostly an Army and Air Force Base in the early ’50s. He built four homes on his farm property for each of his five children until he was forced to sell out and move to a new home in Klair Estates. 

Granddad also had leased property at Indian River Inlet for 99 years from the State of Delaware on which he and about 100 other people had nice cottages until the state forced us out and bulldozed down all of their homes for a large marina.  So during the summer months, I was growing up between Indian River Inlet, Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach and Lewes. 

Grandfather bought more land in Rehoboth Beach and built another home. My parents bought land in Rehoboth and built their retirement home there.

The Townsends owned much of the property around the Hearnes’ three-acre home on Riblett Lane, on a huge Townsend farm which they sold to Seven-Eleven Corporation, who wanted to build it out with apartments, single-family homes, and strip malls on all of the two-lane country roads that we had in 1968 with independent wells and septics. I spent two weeks taking five rolls of 36 pictures of traffic jams in the whole area at morning and evening rush hours at stop signs and red lights along pristine two-lane country roads with no shoulders that I shared with the New Castle board meetings and pointed out to them that “We the People” were quite happy with our homes and developments, including shopping centers, schools, fire and police departments the way they were.

I had pictures of everything. If new developers were going to come in and develop the land for their gain, then “’We the People’ were not interested in paying to expand the infrastructure so that they could get rich.  I explained to the board that the infrastructure consisted of the electricity, telephone services (to which today, cable and cell phone services would be included), water, sewage, road and highway improvements, stormwater systems, road signs, traffic and street lights, street crossings, pedestrian bridges or tunnels, police and fire departments, ambulances and other emergency services, healthcare services, schools, libraries, trash removal and recycling, housing of all types and sizes including low-income, shopping centers, gas stations, quick service stores, perhaps regional malls, and today, we would add bicycle lanes and light rail services. The New Castle board agreed and the Townsend property went undeveloped for nearly 20 years until the new infrastructure went in as planned.

I joined the Navy for the Vietnam War and became a pilot for 26 years, settling in Boyds, Md., for the next 10 years into pristine farm country once again, until developers bought up four of the farms in the area and wanted to put in over 600 new homes and a regional shopping mall.  Once again, we were being faced with higher taxes to pay for new infrastructure so that developers could get rich. Once again, I pointed out to the Montgomery County board that “We The People” were quite happy with our pristine country roads and way of life and if developers were wanting to come in and build new homes and shopping centers to get rich then “they should pay for all of the infrastructure changes and not force the existing people to pay so developers could get rich.

Once again, I pointed out all of the changes in the infrastructure that would be needed to support the new milestone improvements.

The whole auditorium broke out in pandemonium from the packed 1,000-plus citizens attending the meeting and the developers packed up their plans and left the meeting. 

Three months later, the developers came to my home and presented me with a new set of plans for their community that included four-lane divided roads and highways and a clover leaf, land and money for the new school and fire department. The regional mall was replaced with strip malls, grocery stores and restaurants of appropriate sizes, stormwater ponds, a wildlife area and a massive community well to support expansion of the water system, street signs, traffic and street lights, pedestrian crossings and bridges, medical facilities and ambulance services, and everything needed to support their planned community, including upgrading the private and family cemeteries in the area. 

Some adjustments were made to their plans and then the developers took their plans to the county board meeting for approval, which together with planned county improvements only added $1,200 additional cost to each new home and business that was put into their whole community and our county taxes were capped at less than 10 percent per annum which was still that way when I left there in 2014 to retire here to Lewes.

Now once again, I read in the local papers each week how Lewes, Rehoboth and Dewey beaches, and Sussex County struggle with all of the same problems of infrastructure and tax our local people again for all of the new development so that the developers may become rich at our expense. 

Oh you may say that we are not paying any new taxes - not yet anyway - but we are being taxed at the expense of extremely congested roads and highways, jammed intersections, long traffic lights, no street or highway lights, pedestrian and highway deaths and injuries, over-crowded schools needing expansions at our expense, overworked sewage and water systems, poor cellphone services, overworked fire/police/ambulance services and medical facilities, polluted oceans and beaches, canals and rivers, over-running wildlife habitats and food sources, lack of fresh water and needing new water systems, just to name a few.  

Of course, most of the locals have figured out to do all of their shopping during the week between Tuesday and Thursday before the weekenders get here again, but how much longer is that going to last – really?  And we all know that does not work out any more during the summer months.

We all know that most of the developers do not live in or around this area to share our pains.  When are we going to get smart and make the new developers pay for the infrastructure first, then allow them to put in their new communities and shopping centers or restaurants so that we don’t have to pay for these new additions to our communities at our expense so that developers get rich?

Perhaps most or many of us feel like we will only live a few more years and then we won’t have to deal with it. Many of us old folks are now living to 85 or more. My mother just turned 94 and still takes care of herself. Something to think about!

Gary L. Hearne 


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