Sussex County Councilman Mark Schaeffer said he recognizes it might not be a popular opinion, but he would never support a building moratorium in Sussex County. It’s ridiculous and it would crush the local economy, he said.
The first thing that would happen is the people digging the ditches, supplying the lumber, painting the walls and doing the administrative work at these construction businesses would get laid off, he said. Second, he continued, those laid-off workers and their families would stop spending their money at restaurants and other local businesses.
“They all get fired. That is not an exaggeration,” said Schaeffer, addressing the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce during the group’s monthly luncheon May 11.
Due to redistricting, Schaeffer now represents the Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach areas. It was his first time addressing the group as its Sussex County representative.
Schaeffer said he may be new to being an elected official for the area, but he spent much of his youth in Dewey Beach. His dad would drop him off on McKinley Street in Dewey the day school ended and then pick him up the night before school started the next day, he said.
“I had free rein of Dewey as a kid,” he said, laughing.
Schaeffer was asked to speak on affordable housing in Sussex. The average home sale in Sussex County right now is $420,000, and not a lot of people can afford that, he said.
People are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and don’t have any money remaining to do anything else, he said.
Referencing the proposed Mitchell's Corner complex along Kings Highway and Gills Neck Road in Lewes, Schaeffer said higher density should be going in the eastern portion of the county. There’s where density should go, he said.
“I’m a big supporter of density. We need to stop sprawl into the netherlands of the county,” said Schaeffer.
Even on the western side of the county, the land is cheaper, but sprawl causes worse congestion, said Schaeffer.
The congestion may not all be tourists, but there are definitely some tourists. There was $2.4 billion in visitor spending last year, he said. It’s almost surpassed the amount of money brought in by chickens, and who would have thought that was possible here in Sussex County? he asked.
Schaeffer said the county needs to clean up some of the bulk standards and stop telling developers how to design their projects. For example, he said, right now developers have to build rectangular-shaped buildings with two elevators. A developer could save hundreds of thousands of dollars if they could build a square-shaped building with one elevator shaft in the middle, he said.
“We need to get rid of burdensome regulations. This isn’t rocket science,” he said.
Schaeffer said another avenue for affordable housing would be for local municipalities to change their code to allow accessory apartments. A hard look should be taken at that because it would open up a couple hundred units right now, he said.
Schaeffer said even when there are affordable apartments built, they’re still difficult to get into. Market-rate apartments are being leased up before there’s even a slab in the ground, he said.
Schaeffer said the county is considering a requirement for developers to include a portion of new communities as affordable. It’s done all over the country and it’s built into the community, so nobody knows, he said.
Dolle’s Tom Ibach recognized for continued support
Prior to Schaeffer addressing the group, Dolle’s Candyland owner Tom Ibach was recognized for the business’ continued support. Dolle’s Candyland was opened in 1926 by Thomas Pachides and Rudolph Dolle. In 1959, Pachides, Ibach’s maternal grandfather, purchased Dolle's interest in the business, which was located on Rehoboth Avenue and the Boardwalk from 1927 to 2020. Ibach took over in 1984.
His grandfather would be proud, said Ibach. It was sad to see the sign have to come down, but there was an effort made to save it, he said, referencing the donation to the Rehoboth Beach Museum.