Would Brittingham have chosen highest over best

November 2, 2017

Not just a business decision.... But a once in a lifetime opportunity! Lewes was a very different place in 1971 when Chester Brittingham executed his will than it is today. Knowing what we know today, he might well have agreed that an offer of $8.2 million by the J. G. Townsend Co. to forever preserve his land as open space was an unbelievably generous offer, not to be taken lightly. Yes, it was a little lower than a developer's proposal, but a fair market value as determined by several appraisals done by the state and Groome Church.

Everyone thought they had agreed on a fair price and that the church would respond positively given the long-term benefits to coastal Lewes. And, it seemed that it could be good for the church too, not to get bogged down in a lengthy approval process. Yes, the church voted to sell the property a while back when preservation wasn't a consideration, but if they had been presented with both recent offers, one for development and one for preservation, we can't help but wonder if they might have made a different decision if they understood the full impacts of the decision.

Of course, we don't think it is greed on the part of the good people of Groome Church, and we have no intent to hurt Groome Church in any way. We do intend to inform, and in so doing hope to gain their support to reverse the decision and sell the land for conservation. Consider the impacts:

• Development without adequate infrastructure will create more traffic and congestion on the two-lane rural New Road, Pilottown Road and Fourth Street, the roads we all use now when Savannah and Kings Highway are backed up.

• A fragile and internationally recognized ecosystem, the Great Marsh, is at risk, a 17,000-acre coastal wetlands near the mouth of the Delaware Bay that contains a complex ecology unlike any other and providing habitat for numerous plants and animals that are rare in Delaware and around the world. It is also an internationally recognized feeding ground for birds traveling north and south every year.

• New Road flooding is already an issue today and the road is often closed and impassable. (It it is no longer considered an evacuation route today by DelDOT due to flooding.) Who will pay to improve the road and bridge at Canary Creek?

• This large development is on a two-lane highway that a developer may not have to fix except for turning lanes and maybe adding a shoulder along his property. The state Department of Transportation would have to fund the expansion and acquisition of right-of-way for the entire road, a very expensive project with little or no priority.

• Loss of a commitment by J.G. Townsend to work with the state on future preservation of about a thousand contiguous acres of the Great Marsh that could result in an additional 1,200 homes being built on the New Road corridor.

• Loss of a large natural buffer against the increasing wetlands along New Road, that act as a giant sponge soaking up the water in hurricanes, nor'easters and everyday storms, protecting our homes from flooding.

Some may think that this development will be an infrastructure cure-all, but if that were true then why hasn't it happened with other developments? It is because county ordinances are inadequate to protect us and state funding to fix New Road is a very low priority given all the transportation needs in Sussex County. The results of development without adequate infrastructure can be seen all around us as we sit in traffic and flooding increases.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve one of the last large tracts of environmentally sensitive open space and protect Lewes for future generations. That is why our elected officials, Sen. Ernie Lopez, Rep. Steve Smyk, Mayor Ted Becker and County Councilman IG Burton made themselves readily available over the past two years to meet with church officials in an effort to preserve this land for conservation.

They knew how important it was to the future resiliency of coastal Lewes. As Dennis Forney wrote in his column, Chester Brittingham, in his will, stipulated that his personal property and real estate be sold to the "highest and best bidder."

Would Chester Brittingham have chosen highest over best when the greater good of his beloved community is at stake?

New Road Preservation Alliance
Doug Spelman
Joe Stormer
Barbara Vaughan
Dave Ennis

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