County planning director Lank to retire after 47 years

Sussex County’s planning director has a new plan under development — retirement, after nearly a half-century of public service. County Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence B. Lank will retire Dec. 1 from the position he has held since 1985, overseeing a staff of nearly a dozen employees in one of the County’s highest-profile departments.

Planning & Zoning, among other duties, oversees land use in unincorporated parts of Sussex County and supports the County Council, Planning & Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustment as development applications work through the rezoning, subdivision, conditional-use and variance processes.

“I want to thank all the past and present employees I’ve worked with. They’ve been family to me, just as I hope I have been like family to them,” said Lank, who, at 47 years and two months of service, is the longest-tenured employee in the history of County government in the modern era. “I’ll miss them all, and I’ll miss the work, because I’ve really enjoyed working with the public.”

A native of Seaford, Lank began his service with Sussex County as a draftsman in 1969 — the year after Delaware shifted land-use authority to the counties, creating the need for a local zoning code and a department dedicated to implementation of the rules and regulations governing development. Since then, he has risen through the ranks, to planning technician, then assistant planning director and finally planning director, the post he has held now for 31 years.

During his tenure, Lank has seen Sussex County transition from a mostly rural farming community and seasonal vacation destination to a second home for retirees and others drawn to the county. In that time, the County has gone through the process of drafting and implementing at least six comprehensive planning documents and reviewed thousands of land-use applications for housing, commercial and industrial projects.

Lank said his successes as director would not have been possible without the vision of the county council members and county administrators, as well as the support of the county’s legal community, building professionals and dedicated staff he has led in a career that spans six decades — the 1960s through the 2010s.

“Everyone is a little different, but they’ve all been easy to work with. And the public had been great to work with, too,” Lank said. “Many times, people have come in to the office upset or not understanding the process. It’s always been my goal to send them out, hopefully, with a smile and having a better understanding of the process.”

After his unprecedented run of public service, Lank said he plans to enjoy his retirement by golfing and working on projects around the house, for starters.

“It’s a vacation he has certainly earned, no question,” County Administrator Todd F. Lawson said. “I jokingly refer to Lawrence as the ‘dean of Sussex County,’ but that title is very fitting, because it reflects his many years of service and the kind of respect and esteem he has earned in a lifetime career. He’s earned every bit of it.”

County Council President Michael H. Vincent said the County has been exceedingly fortunate over the years to have Lank for his vast, almost encyclopedic, knowledge of the County zoning code, and for his guidance in steering County Council and Planning & Zoning Commission members through the oftentimes delicate land-use process.

“Lawrence Lank knows zoning like no one else in this county. He’s literally helped write the book,” Vincent said. “It is an understatement to say Mr. Lank has been an asset to this County. It does not begin to capture just how critical he, his knowledge and his dedication have been to the County all these years. We will miss him greatly, but we thank him for his service and wish him all the best in this well-deserved next chapter of life,” Vincent added.

Lawson said he plans to work with the County Council to have the position filled by this fall, ahead of Lank’s last day on the job.