EDITORIAL: Now is the time for voices to be heard

The controversial ordinance proposal before Sussex County Council in recent months over allowing county officials to trade land density for cash is soon coming to a head — and the public will thankfully have their opportunities to voice their personal opinions.

The ordinance, authored and introduced by Councilman Vance Phillips, would permit some townhome and condominium developments to exceed limits outlined in the county’s comprehensive land-use plan in exchange for money. That money, according to Phillips, would allow Sussex County Council to purchase and preserve more open space for future generations of Sussex Countians.

One source of public outcry over the proposed ordinance is that it would allow these “upzonings” to occur in environmentally-sensitive areas. Another source of contention is the spirit of the ordinance in general.

“I don’t want to be blasted for selling all of Sussex County for money,” said Councilman Lynn Rogers, when the ordinance was first introduced. “I don’t want to end up with an ordinance that allows you to buy your way out of the comprehensive plan.”

“We ought to be rezoning property because there’s a need or because it’s compatible, but never for money,” said Councilman George Cole.

However, others favor the ordinance, citing the need to generate revenue for the county with limited transfer taxes coming in recently, and the perceived threat that the state might take some of those revenues from the county’s coffers. They also like the idea of the county participating in more open-space preservation.

So, with Sussex County Council seemingly split on the proposal, two public hearings will soon take place where the general public can state their beliefs. Do you feel like this is a good idea and just the shot in the arm the county needs? Go to the hearing and let them hear that. Feel like it’s generally a bad idea to let people skirt the laws in return for some money? Go tell them that.

This is the ultimate study in democracy. Yes, we choose our elected officials to vote the way we want them to vote. But with a public hearing you can guarantee they will know how you want them to vote, as opposed to the council members assuming they know what the people want.

The first hearing is scheduled for Thursday, June 14, in Sussex County Council chambers at 6 p.m. The second is slated for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 26, at the Sussex County Council meeting.