Ritter removes concrete crushing from operation

Nearby residents still want wider buffers between their community and parcel
December 9, 2022

Story Location:
Ritter Lane
Plantation Road
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

The owners of a borrow pit and landscape material business have made changes in their operation to quell concerns expressed by neighbors, even though Howard L. Ritter & Sons has been in business at the same location since the early 1970s.

When the Ritter family started operating the borrow pit to mine and sell sand and gravel, there was very limited housing development in the area along Plantation Road near the Robinsonville Road intersection. Now, hundreds of houses and condominiums have been constructed on two sides of the Ritters’ 51-acre parcel.

The Ritters have filed a conditional-use application with Sussex County to continue sales and storage of mulch, soil, stone and other related outdoor products with existence of an existing, non-forming borrow-pit operation that predates zoning in the county.

During a Nov. 17 Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission hearing, David Hutt, the applicants’ attorney, said the application does not include a concrete-crushing and recycling operation, stump and tree grinding or a shredding and dying operation for mulch.

The commission deferred a vote and placed the application on agenda of the Dec. 8 meeting.

Hutt said the family has taken a dramatic cut on their income to resolve issues raised by nearby residents, especially those in the new Martima subdivision. Six lots on Four Leaf Drive in the community border Ritter Lane Drive, the dirt and stone road leading from Plantation Road to their property.

Hutt said the parcel has contained a borrow pit since the 1940s. Howard Ritter leased the property starting in 1975 and bought the parcel in 1979.

He said the closest residences to the parcel are 300 feet away.

Comments from Martima residents

Sussex County Planning & Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse said the office has received 30 written responses and a petition signed by 36 people in opposition to the application and 42 letters and emails in support of the application, including several from businesses that use the materials sold by the Ritters.

Many of the opposition letters and emails – mostly from the adjacent Maritima subdivision – concern the original application, which included a concrete-crushing operation.

Martima, approved in June 2016, contains 28 single-family lots.

Chris Clemson, an attorney representing Maritima developer Aurora Homes, said while residents appreciate the amended application, it still does not ease some of their chief concerns.

He said county officials should be aware that there could be health and nuisance issues if any remaining concrete waste has to be excavated and removed.

Clemson said residents want a vegetated buffer wider than minimum requirements of 100 to 200 feet between their community and the parcel and Ritter Lane. “Right now, the buffer is closer to 5 to 10 feet,” he said.

In addition, he said, officials should require a fence and water-spraying system to keep down dust on Ritter Lane.

Commissioner Holly Wingate said it's not fair to place the burden of a wider buffer on the Ritters. “They were there first. The residents should go back to the developer.”

Maritima resident Chris Cooper said taking the concrete-crushing operation off the application negates the biggest opposition to the application. “The buffer. Whose responsibility is it?” she asked. “Whoever is responsible, we want it done. Could you look into it, please, and take action, please.”

Whitehouse said there is a 20-foot vegetated buffer in Phase 1 of the project.

No fines, no violations

During public testimony, several residents pointed to a series of issues reported to DNREC concerning the Ritters’ operation. Hutt said no violations have ever been levied against the Ritters.

“Just because there were seven complaints received doesn't mean any environmental crimes were committed or fines levied,” Hutt said. “During a DNREC site visit, some minor issues were found; they have all been complied with. There have never been charges, violations or fines.”

“There are significant letters and emails in support. That's unusual and says a lot,” Hutt said. “Some said this is an economic engine for our community and they have been a local, loyal business. When neighbors protested, the Ritters revised their application from what they have been doing for decades and to discontinue a very profitable part of their business.”

Sussex County Council has scheduled a hearing on the application at 1 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.


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