A group of residents has filed two separate appeals of Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission’s recent preliminary approval of the Coral Lakes cluster subdivision on Robinsonville Road.
Sussex P&Z voted 3-1-1 June 23 to approve the 304-unit community planned on 152 acres west of Lewes. The vote was a reversal of its earlier vote to deny the subdivision in March. Developer Schell Brothers LLC appealed the first vote to Sussex County Council, which remanded the application back to P&Z for reconsideration of the public record and for commissioners to clearly state their reasons for their vote.
As part of the revote in June, 11 bonus-density lots were denied, dropping the maximum number of lots to 304. The plan includes 75 acres of open space, of which at least 30% must be contiguous.
Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson has contacted both appealing parties to see if the appeals can be combined.
Attorney Luke Mette has filed an appeal on behalf of Jill and Bill Hicks, Sergei Boboshko, Kerry Russo and Susan Petze-Rosenblum, who all live on Aintree Drive adjacent to the Coral Lakes parcel.
The residents allege Sussex P&Z abdicated its fact-finding and legal conclusion to Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson. By doing so, the residents say commissioners failed to follow Sussex County Council’s remand instructions. They say the June 23 vote was not the result of an orderly and logical review, but simply acting as instructed by Robertson. Leading up to a vote, Robertson cited three property rights court cases that prompted him to tell the commission it could not vote to deny the application if it meets all requirements set forth in county code. The residents object to Robertson reading the motion instead of one crafted by a commissioner.
The second appeal was filed by Terry Bartley, a resident of the Sea Wood Estates community off Robinsonville Road. In his appeal, Bartley alleges Planning & Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse added to the public record at the June 23 meeting when Robertson asked him to confirm the Coral Lakes application complied with all Sussex subdivision and zoning codes.
“The public was unfairly denied an opportunity to refute Mr. Whitehouse’s declarative statement concerning the application complying with Sussex County code,” Bartley writes in his appeal. “The commission’s reasons of support relied on the director’s statement, and they did so at the exclusion of all other considerations.”
Bartley also alleges the application was not properly signed off on by planning & zoning department staff prior to the record closing in January, while he also argues the maximum number of lots was miscalculated, and the developer and county officials misinterpreted county code regarding building in wetlands.
In an email July 29, Lawson urged both appellants to consider working together.
“It’s the county’s hope the two appeals can be combined,” Lawson wrote. “I would request that the individuals discuss these matters and communicate back to the county their preferred approach.”
Once this occurs, he said, the county and its attorneys can determine the next steps.
Jon Horner, attorney for the applicant, said the planning & zoning commission made no errors in its consideration and vote.
“We have reviewed the appeal filings, which include an appeal from direct neighbors of the proposed project, and believe them to be without merit,” Horner said. “The planning & zoning commission thoroughly reviewed the Coral Lakes application and confirmed that the application complies with applicable laws including Sussex County code. We ultimately believe the county council will uphold the decision of the planning & zoning commission as being the product of an orderly and logical review of the record and the proper application of the law.”
The Coral Lakes application has drawn heavy opposition since it was first proposed in late 2021. Many concerns are centered on perceived overdevelopment of Robinsonville Road, which has recently seen the approval of five subdivisions totaling more than 750 units. Other concerns include loss of wildlife habitat, building in wetlands and impact on neighboring properties.