Sussex County Council says no to Rabbit Hole

Proposed special-events venue in rural area near Georgetown hits roadblock
September 17, 2021

Story Location:
17638 Dusty Road
Georgetown, DE 19958
United States

With a 4-1 vote, Sussex County Council has denied a conditional-use application for the Rabbit Hole, a proposed special-events venue near Georgetown.

During council’s Sept. 14 meeting, four members agreed with the unanimous decision of the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission to deny the application for a variety of reasons, including questions over the parking plan, and complaints from neighbors about traffic and noise.

Branson James filed the application for the venue on his 2-acre property at 17638 Dusty Road to allow for bands, concerts, movie nights and weddings. He and his wife Hope have already hosted at least six functions open to the public, including one on June 5 with a county special-events permit. The county’s permit process allows up to three special events on a single property during a calendar year.

Functions so far have included a mix of DJ and live performances featuring electronic dance music, vendors and camping. Some of the events went late into the night and next morning. Branson said he would conform to whatever hours the county would allow.

Neighbors reported the events to Sussex County officials, complaining of noise late into the night, and a violation notice was issued, forcing James to file for a conditional use. An events venue is not a permitted use in AR-1 zoning districts without a conditional-use approval.

Council President Mike Vincent of District 1 questioned the parking plan for up to 100 cars. “I’m willing to go lower to 70 to 85 if required,” Branson said.

County Planning and Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse said Branson submitted an informal parking plan to receive the special-events permit. “But there is no formal site plan,” he said.

James said he was confused about noise complaints from people who do not live near his property. “Our next-door neighbor told us they can hardly hear the music. They have no complaints,” he said. He said decibel readings range around the 50-55 mark near the stage.

During the Sept. 14 hearing, four neighbors urged council to deny the application. Kelly Short, who lives on Old Saw Mill Road, one mile from the property, said she can hear the music in her house with the windows and doors closed. She said she has called Delaware State Police five times complaining about the noise, including one call at 5 a.m. She reminded council that a petition with 21 signatures against the proposal is in the public record.

Tom Moody, who lives on East Trap Pond Road about one-quarter mile behind the property, said he’s not opposed to events on the property, but the music is too loud, especially at night.

District 5 Councilman John Rieley, who voted in favor of the application, said people should be able to use their property for this type of function with proper conditions and in a limited fashion more palatable to the neighbors.

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