Nightmare on 9 getting closer to reality

June 14, 2024

At 1 p.m., Wednesday, July 17, the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on Northstar, a proposed mixed-use development on Route 9. Northstar would provide 852 residential units and 96,000 square feet of commercial space on 400 acres of agricultural land. 

Cool Spring Crossing, another, larger mixed-use development, has also been proposed for Route 9. Cool Spring has two applications pending, one with fewer dwelling units. Neither has been scheduled for county action. Both have been opposed by the Office of State Planning Coordination.

If the largest versions of both developments are approved, 46,000 daily vehicle trips will be added to local roads. Traffic on Route 9 is often a nightmare. As one of Sussex County’s few east-west highways, tourists and weekenders use Route 9, which causes bumper-to-bumper traffic throughout the summer. One accident and traffic comes to a standstill, delaying drivers and emergency vehicles needing to get through.

DelDOT is considering plans to widen Route 9 in two stages – from Five Points to Old Vine Road (construction projected to begin 2027-28) and from there to Dairy Farm Road (no projected start date). There is no guarantee that DelDOT will meet its original targets. Judging from other nearby DelDOT projects, those target dates will not be met. 

All too often, Sussex County officials say yes when they should say no. County officials approve residential and commercial construction before adequate infrastructure is in place or even in the planning phase. Disruption follows.

Every day, Sussex residents feel the harmful consequences of allowing new development before sufficient infrastructure is in place. Roads are more overcrowded, as are schools and healthcare facilities; public safety is stretched and emergency evacuation caused by severe weather is more perilous; emergency response times are longer; woodlands and wetlands are destroyed, making flooding more likely and upsetting life-sustaining biodiversity. Our quality of life is declining.

As long as citizens remain silent, developers with deep pockets and big promises dominate development decisions. The most effective voice citizens have is the power of the vote. In November 2024, three incumbent members of Sussex County Council are seeking re-election. All have at least one challenger. Ask them and their opponents: What will you do to break out of the cycle of irresponsible development? What will you do to protect the built and natural environments; encourage economic prosperity, social equity and educational opportunity for all; and expand cultural as well as recreational possibilities?

On Friday, June 21, the Sussex Preservation Coalition will release a Livable Communities Agenda that includes ways to improve coordinated development, preserve more of the natural resources that make Sussex an attractive place to live, and provide opportunities for greater citizen participation in public decision making. The agenda will be available at after June 21.

Hold current and aspiring officeholders accountable, ask every candidate how they stand on the Livable Communities Agenda, then vote.

Jane Gruenebaum
Joe Pika
Board member
Sussex Preservation Coalition
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