Lewes declines purchase of $2.5 million property

Officials cite financial responsibility; property owner pledges development
June 17, 2022

“It will get developed. You can count on that,” resident and business owner Rick Quill declared as he stormed out of Lewes council chambers June 13.

Mayor and city council had just voted 4-1 to decline an offer to purchase a plot of land co-owned by Quill, despite what seemed to be support from the public. Council’s concerns included: An idea without an approved plan for development, a price tag that would consume half of the city’s rainy day fund, and a deadline of June 27 to vote on approval of the purchase with June 30 as the date to finalize the Realtor agreement.

Councilman Khalil Saliba made a motion in favor of purchasing the 0.6-acre property at 203 E. Savannah Road, across from the Dairy Queen. Saliba cited the opportunity the city had to control development and possibly put something productive on the two parcels of land. Silence followed when it was asked if anyone would second the motion. 

Mayor Andrew Williams asked if anyone wanted to make a motion in favor of turning down the offer. Councilwoman Carolyn Jones did just that, seconded by Councilman Tim Ritzert. Jones said it is not financially responsible for Lewes to spend such a significant amount of money when it only has $5 million in reserves. She said there is currently no approved plan in place for the property from the city, and she thought buying a property for higher than the appraised value ($2,215,000) without a plan was not good leadership. 

Ritzert said Lewes does not have a policy to invest such a large amount of money in a property. Williams echoed that sentiment, saying the city has a number of other needs to address. He’d also like to see the city develop a rating system to evaluate opportunities as they appear. 

City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said the deadlines set forth in the Realtor agreement were rigid and unyielding; mayor and city council had to vote on approval by June 27 and finalize the agreement by June 30. Mayor and city council members believed they were not given flexibility.

Councilwoman Candace Vessella’s biggest reason for voting no was the amount of debt the city would be taking on. Vessella said she was thinking of the future of Lewes and the various capital projects, or emergency projects, that could surface in the coming years. Spending $2.5 million for a piece of property could come back to haunt the city when necessary repairs or upgrades become required for successful day-to-day operations, she said.

Quill, visibly upset with the decision, cited The Gettysburg Address in his response to mayor and city council’s decision to not buy his property. Quill said he believed there was significant public support for the purchase. During the June 6 public hearing, several people voiced approval of the idea, but overall public comment revealed a split of 15 households in favor and 10 households against the acquisition. 

Favorable comments noted how the city could use the property for parking, open space or a park. Costs, in some cases significant costs, are still associated with such ventures, despite their seemingly minimal impact. Stormwater management in the area is an ongoing problem that still needs to be remedied. Maintenance would be required with a parking lot, park or open space, and all three provide minimal revenue streams to the city. Parking, particularly in Lewes, can be affected by outside influences, such as the weather and tourist trends, and is a seasonal operation. 

Due to existing conditions on the site, significant upgrades and upkeep would be required for the city to build or maintain open space or a park. Unlike other open-space areas in Lewes, the property features few accommodations for wildlife and plants; it would be incumbent on the city to develop and become stewards of the area, which would cost even more money.

Following mayor and city council’s meeting, public comment was welcomed. Charlie Atwell, who lives on Lewes Beach, took his time to engage with Jones. Atwell was upset at the decision to not invest in the property and felt Lewes spends a disproportionate amount of its funds away from Lewes Beach. Atwell said mayor and city council did not take enough time to thoroughly investigate the positive impact city-owned land would have on his community. Jones, who was not required to answer, assured Atwell they looked into the matter and it was not a decision she took lightly. She thanked Atwell for his comments and concerns, but she said she has a duty and responsibility to think about all of the residents of Lewes when making decisions. Financially, Lewes is not prepared to handle land acquisition of this scale, she said, and as stewards of Lewes’ finances, council believed it would be irresponsible.

Ritzert said he believes the area could use more commercialization and that the current mixed-use plan for the property is the best use. According to Quill, the parcels will be developed. Current plans are for 12 carriage houses reportedly valued at just over $1 million each.


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