The Sussex County Land Trust is getting a big boost in its efforts to preserve land.
Local builder Schell Brothers has committed to make a $250,000 donation now, and then donate $1,000 for every home settlement completed in 2022 and 2023.
According to CEO Chris Schell, that number will be around $500,000 for each of the two years, with about 500 settlements occurring each year, making the total in excess of $1 million.
“We are always looking for ways to give back to the community, because the community has been good to us,” Schell said. “We want to get more involved with the Sussex County Land Trust.”
He added, “Our industry has had surprising results during the COVID-19 pandemic. Housing took off, and we need to give back.”
Casey Kenton, land trust chair, said Sussex County officials, who provide a substantial amount of funding for the land trust, have been asking for years to get developers more involved in land preservation. He said the hope is that Schell Brothers is the first of many developers to commit to supporting the land trust.
“We want to lead by example and get others to follow. We are committed to this as the answer to protect our natural assets. In this market, I think we can all afford it,” Schell said.
His brother Preston, president of Ocean Atlantic Companies, made a donation of $152,800 to the trust in 2020 using a percentage of lot sales from Covered Bridge Trails in Lewes and The Farm at Truitt Homestead in Rehoboth Beach. Preston Schell was one of the land trust founders more than 20 years ago.
Partnership with Sussex County
At its Jan. 25 meeting, Sussex County Council will discuss a budget amendment to allocate $5.6 million from a realty transfer tax surplus toward open space preservation.
“The county values our partnership with the land trust,” said Sussex County District 5 Councilman John Rieley, who is also a county-appointed land trust board member.
“We are excited to see the progress that has been made in the past few years in the preservation of key parcels around the county. The new members of the land trust board bring new strength and vision, so the future looks bright, and I am certain that 20 years from now, we will be glad for what is being accomplished now,” he said. “The county is making a significant commitment to the preservation of open space, as we will soon have over $6 million in our budget for land purchases. We also continue to be committed to participating in the Farmland Preservation Program.”
District 3 Sussex County Councilman Mark Schaeffer, also a land trust board member, said, “The Sussex County Land Trust has done a wonderful job preserving land, which will protect the quality of life for future generations. I would like to see their partnership with Sussex County government grow substantially, with a commitment for more significant funding for preservation of land primarily in those areas of the county under severe development pressure.”
Land trust funds study for Route 9 pedestrian-bike overpass
Sussex County Land Trust Chair Casey Kenton said the trust is focused on three priority projects, including creation of the 30-acre Hudson Park Lewes-to-Georgetown Trailhead, which could include a pedestrian-bicycle bridge over Route 9 at its intersection with Cool Spring Road; partnership with Chesapeake Conservancy for preserving a 41-acre tract of land along the Nanticoke River in western Sussex County; and work on a 59-acre site north of Seaford which contains the 1727 Cannon-Maston House to develop a trail and preserve the historic house.
There is a lot of support for the pedestrian-bicycle bridge, but building it will be a heavy lift, Kenton said. The land trust has taken a first step and hired Pennoni Associates to conduct a feasibility study, which also includes possible expansion of the trail to Milton. The study is expected to be completed during the second quarter of 2022.
The trust is also exploring federal support through the infrastructure bill.
Kenton said a visual display of what the bridge would look like will help sell the idea and provide more information to state transportation officials.
The Delaware Department of Transportation has completed 8 miles of the planned 17 miles of the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. The next phase, scheduled for spring 2022, will be from Cool Spring Road to Fisher Road.
Since the trust was formed in 2001, Sussex County officials have contributed $6.7 million and land trust volunteers have raised more than $4 million in private donations to preserve more than 6,000 acres of land in the county. Its mission is to preserve history, conserve forest habitat and protect private land through easements.
For more information, go to sclandtrust.org.