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Lewes officials urged to protect citizens

June 28, 2019

The following letter was sent to the Lewes Planning Commission, with a copy submitted to the Cape Gazette for publication.                      

Anyone who lives in Lewes knows that we have a problem with flooding that is rapidly worsening as new development continues at an alarming rate while the land is also sinking and the seas rising. 

Drive down New Road, over the bridge to the beach, out Cedar Avenue, or along Fourth Street where the forest used to be. The developers’ solution usually seems to be to elevate the drives and the housing lots until the standing water goes elsewhere.  And it does go elsewhere - most often into the yards or basements of the people whose houses are nearby. Or into the marshes from whence all the flooding comes and which serve as our only protection for the delicate ecosystem in which we exist along the Delaware shore.

Flood plains, wetlands and marshes continue to be ignored at our peril. So I was shocked to learn at the June 13 hearing for Fishers Cove before the Planning Commission, that a hydrologist’s report is not needed for the initial approval of a development project.  I am not a scientist, but that requirement seems incredibly backward and outdated.  

Over the years, I have sat in on many such hearings, and despite the hard work and best efforts of many, many thoughtful townspeople who want to see this beautiful place protected, the rate of development marches relentlessly on.  We count on our elected officials to make wise and careful decisions to protect our property and the ecosystem that sustains the life on the bay, but over and over again, our hopes are dashed and the destruction continues. 

These are good people who are working in service for the community, and as such they are exceptionally careful to follow the ordinances and regulations in place, for fear that their decisions could come back to haunt them in some legal or financial way or both. 

Yet they are inevitably hamstrung by ordinances and regulations or plans that were made many years and in some cases decades ago that could not possibly have anticipated the conditions we face today.  To think that we are actually governed by an ordinance about dead-end streets that was passed in the late 1940s? Or that individual property rights supersede the health and protection of the neighbors or the rest of the community?  What about their property rights?

The situation is dire, and we continue to make it worse with each decision for each individual development, none of which may seem that big, but in the aggregate are a disaster for this town, its citizens, and the environment.  When a house is on fire with people trapped inside, the fire department has not only the permission, but a sacred duty to bash down the front door to rescue the structure and its inhabitants. 

Surely, there must be a provision for a community faced with imminent destruction to take actions which recognize that some of our existing rules may no longer make any sense. 

Or at the very least to take immediate action to replace some of those ordinances for ones that could do a better job of protecting the rights of all the citizens and their surroundings and not just those of the developers and realtors.  Those of us who care about Lewes implore you to find a way to save it.  

Diana Coulton Beebe
Lewes

 

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