Letters: April 29, 2005

A good business requires environment

Many business residents think “the more (customers) the merrier” is a good philosophy. This philosophy of fast growth seems wise in the short run. However, I feel this view is woefully inadequate in the long run.

It seems our Sussex County Council has encouraged quick exponential population growth by permitting multiple housing developments WITHOUT assuring that the infrastructure to reach many business destinations from these homes is in place. For business owners to reap maximum benefit from this increased population, clients and customers must have good access to the retail establishments they want to patronize.

I believe the allocation of government responsibilities is partially to blame. The county council is responsible for waste management in Sussex but not transportation. Although the county has extended sewers and condemned inoperable septic systems, access roads remain frustratingly inadequate. It is time that you and I demand that Sussex County Council coordinate their permits for housing developments with the state through the DelDOT agency that provides access roads and public transportation.

Developers in other states provide IMPACT FEES to offset the additional road, sewer and water line expense incurred by a new development. Developers recoup their up front fees from initial product sale and/or through homeowner association dues.

Since you and I only get what we demand in a democracy, I recommend that both business and residential citizens write to their representatives to demand that they provide the infrastructure costs needed through the initial collection of impact fees from developers. Please address specific access areas, such as service roads and public transportation, which brings employees to homes as well as customers to businesses.

Martha Keller
Fenwick Island

Chamber president responds to letter

I feel that I must respond to the Shackle’s comments in the April 22 issue of the Coastal Point. The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce did not instigate the idea of widening and improving Route 26. DelDOT has been planning and designing this project for close to 10 years. DelDOT engineers have been aware for some time as to which properties will be impacted and to what degree, from easements to what the department calls a “total take.” The Chamber has merely asked that the result of two years of torn-up road be an actual improvement over the road presently in use.

Yes, the Chamber recommended the project include a center lane from the canal to Clarksville. This is the design used in the Bethany segment of the project, and it makes sense to continue it. The center lane allows for continuity in the traffic pattern, passage for emergency response vehicles, and an improved evacuation route. All of these are critically important in our view.

There are a few properties, both business and residential, that will be severely impacted by any work on Route 26. One of those homeowners is on our Board of Directors. We have suggested eliminating the grass strips from both sides of the road to lessen the land needed, and we know the design team at DelDOT works very hard to mitigate impact while trying to solve complex traffic problems.

The legal, incorporated service area of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce includes the towns of Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island, South Bethany, Ocean View, Millville, Clarksville, Roxana, Frankford and Selbyville.

Phil Fleming
President, Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce

Reader asks, progress or an illusion?

It’s said Rep. Gerald Hocker will introduce legislation in the House this week that calls for Sussex County to have seven (7) council districts in 2008. At the same time, it’s said Sen. Gary Simpson will attempt to bring legislation out of committee for a floor vote in the Senate that would add two (2) “at-large” seats to the Sussex County Council. Both bills are supposedly to be co-sponsored by local state senators and representatives.

The good news for residents of the county is such activity indicates our local politicians are starting to pay serious attention to the hue and cry being raised over the long ignored representation and voting-inequities associated with Sussex County Council government. It appears their interest has been greatly heightened by the large volume of letters, emails and phone calls they have been receiving over the past several months that calls for changes in how our county council members are chosen. For that we should all thank Citizens for a Better Sussex (CBS) and their tireless effort to inform county residents of the importance of letting their elected state representatives know their feeling on this matter. It is necessary however to keep up the effort as the battle is yet to be won.

The bad news is that Rep. Hocker’s proposed legislation is suspect on several counts. Even if passed in 2005 the legislation would not go into effect until 2008, and a lot more over-development would have taken place in Sussex County between now and then. Furthermore, the same councilmen who drew up the existing gerrymandered five districts would be responsible for drawing up the proposed new seven-district county as well. Unless the legislation called for an independent commission to redraw the council district lines (which it does not) it would be difficult to have any confidence in how the future new district lines might be drawn.

Sen. Simpson’s proposed legislation would help create a positive change in how Sussex County residents are represented, especially in the over-developed and under-represented eastern portion of the county, and do so in a current time frame. Rep. Hocker’s proposed bill on the other hand is the classic example of the phrase, “a dollar short and a day late.”

Only a week ago Rep. Hocker publicly indicated he could support two “at large” council seats legislation or a seven-district piece of legislation, whatever. Thus, one wonders why he didn’t go ahead and propose the two “at-large” legislation in the House that would closely mirror the legislation Senator Simpson was proposing in the Senate? After all it was the Senate, not the House where he kept telling us he had the most concern about the legislation’s chance of passing. Were those two pieces of legislation then to pass their respective chambers the chore of reconciling any difference in the two bills could be done in a relatively short time frame.

As it stands now the two proposed pieces of legislation are so different from each other that if they were both to pass their respective legislatures the job of reconciling them in a joint House-Senate committee could be immense. It is not difficult to imagine that task might not be completed before the legislative session ended this year, if at all. Thus, progress would be delayed for at least another year.

Perhaps one can be excused for cynically wondering if the proposed Hocker legislation is anything more than a transparent attempt to allay citizens’ concerns by creating the illusion that meaningful legislation is being proposed. We need look no further than Hocker’s 2004 campaign contribution list (as well as those of several of our other local politicians) to note that a significant portion of those contributions came from companies and individuals associated with the over-development of Sussex County.

It would seem that the challenge before us is whether or not we will insist that our state senators and representatives propose, and publicly support, meaningful legislation to correct our county council problems. Or, on the other hand, we will continue to allow ourselves to be mislead and thus short-changed at the ballot box in the process.

Allen Ide

LSLL thanks Hocker for support, Jamboree

On April 22 and 23, the 23rd Annual Springtime Jamboree was held at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, in Selbyville. Nearly 900 people enjoyed two nights of great entertainment with many great performers.

The Lower Sussex Little League Board of Directors would like to thank Gerald Hocker for the many hours of work putting the Jamboree together.

This event helped raise a lot of money for our league of 550 children. The funds will be used for maintaining our facilities, to give the children a quality place to play.

Bruce Layton
President, LSLL

By State Rep. Gerald Hocker
Special to the Coastal Point

For most of its existence, Sussex County has been largely rural. In recent years however, the county has been undergoing a fundamental change. While many portions of Sussex continue to retain their rustic character, other sections have been transformed into suburban landscapes. Many portions of eastern Sussex have all the characteristics of urban areas, with high-density dwellings, multi-lane highways and gridlock.

In short, our county has changed a great deal in a relatively short period of time. Consider that between 1990 and 2000, the population of Sussex jumped by more than 38 percent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people living in the county grew by an additional 7.3 percent between 2000 and 2003.

Yet while our county has changed, our government has remained static for more than 30 years. It continues to be a five-member council with each councilman elected from a geographically delineated district. It’s apparent that as it is currently structured, our county council does not accurately reflect the new Sussex reality.

This observation should in no way be considered a criticism of past or current council members. It is simply an indisputable fact. I believe county government needs to change, an opinion that’s shared by some of my General Assembly colleagues, as well as many Sussex County residents.
Reforming Sussex County Council to more accurately represent the will of the people who live here is a topic I’ve spoken out about since I first ran for public office in 1999, and it is an issue on which I have remained consistent.

I first publicly proposed the option of adding two at-large seats to the council six years ago. At-large council members would have several benefits. They would not be beholden to the residents of a particular district, but would rather represent all county residents equally. The broader perspective of these members would enrich council debate and the differing viewpoints of at-large members would also act as a check on council actions.

However, wanting change and making it happen are two different things. Any change in Sussex government will require the approval of both General Assembly chambers and the governor. While a proposal to add two at-large seats to county council would likely clear the State House, it would almost certainly hit a wall in the Senate. Last year, Sen. Gary Simpson proposed this in Senate Bill 117. Unfortunately, the bill died in committee.

Although I believe it is extremely unlikely this option would pass, I will gladly co-sponsor any House or Senate bill proposing it. If it accomplishes nothing else, the introduction of such a bill would place this issue before lawmakers and continue the debate at the state level.

I will also sponsor a bill containing a second option for reforming county council. This proposal would create two new councilmatic districts, increasing the council to seven members in all. The new districts would be incorporated into council by 2008.

I introduced a similar bill last year. It cleared the House but was bottled up in a Senate committee. In contrast to last year’s legislation, this version would create the new districts earlier and would not include any provisions about how the districts should be apportioned. I believe this bill will not only stoke the debate over council reform, it also holds the promise of getting beach residents the equal representation they deserve.

There are many people who would like to see our county government changed tomorrow. I’d like that myself, but it isn’t going to happen. Some county residents are frustrated by this reality and have lashed out by spreading misinformation and engaging in tactics that have pitted residents against each other.

Changing any long-established institution is not an overnight process. There are many people with an interest in maintaining the status quo and overcoming their ingrained resistance to change will require that we adopt the skills of the marathon runner over the sprinter.

I look forward to joining with everyone who supports changing our council to accurately represent the interests of all Sussex Countians. Only by acting together and working towards a common goal will we succeed in this worthy undertaking.

— State Rep. Gerald Hocker represents the 38th District