Milton shopping center application denied by Sussex County

The Sussex County Council this week denied the controversial application by T.D. Rehoboth LLC for the Overbrook Town Center shopping center, proposed to be built near Milton and strongly opposed by some nearby residents.

With standing room only in County Council Chambers on Tuesday, April 12, the council voted 4-1 to deny the application, which was originally filed in December 2014.

The applicant had sought to change the Comprehensive Land Use Map designation from an AR-1/Agricultural-Residential District to a CR-1/Commercial-Residential District for the 114.5-acre parcel on the northeast side of Route 1, across from Route 88.

The intended use of the property was an 850,000-square-foot shopping center (about 1.5 times the size of the Tanger Outlets centers in Rehoboth Beach combined), with individual access to each store, rather than a mall or outlet stores. The project was to feature national anchor stores and pad sites for restaurants.

District 5 Councilman Rob Arlett was the only council member to vote in favor of the change in zoning, and his vote was met with a roar of “boos” and outcries from attendees, including “Move back to where you came from” and “Just shut up.”

Arlett said the county needs to look at “who we are as a community,” stating that the county constantly struggles with growth versus no growth.

While Sussex is a county with a long and proud agricultural history, he said, the county cannot ignore the fact that the area is changing and growing, as a tourist and retirement destination.

As for those who reached out to him following the close of public comment on the application, Arlett said he did “intentionally ignore” them.

“I don’t want anyone to think they have the ability to influence my decision.”

Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she did not believe it was appropriate to rezone the property, stating the importance of agricultural preservation and that its current zoning is “the most appropriate classification for this property.”

Councilman Sam Wilson, who often voices his support of agriculture, as well as property owner rights, said he walked into Tuesday’s meeting not knowing how he would vote.

“This piece of land… I can tell you both sides on this thing,” he said. “Right now, I’m in favor of denial.”

Councilman George Cole also voted against the application, stating he agreed with the 14 reasons for denial stated by Planning & Zoning Commissioner I. G. Burton, who voted to recommend denial of the application to the council.

Burton’s reasons included believing it is not an appropriate rezoning designation for the property and that the rezoning was inconsistent with surrounding zoning and use of property in the area.

“I support those reasons,” said Cole, adding, “I don’t believe there’s a large enough population base to support it.”

He also mentioned concerns regarding the size of the project and traffic.

“There’s nothing positive about this application.”

Council President Michael Vincent, who stated he had spent a good deal of time last week reviewing the applicant’s documents, said there were good sides to both granting and denying the application.

“This is a change of a zone, of land use. Once you change that zone, it’s forever. You can’t go back and say, ‘Oops, I made a mistake.’ It is what it is…

“I am certainly a person who believes in property rights… but I will also tell you that I don’t think my property rights should affect yours,” he said, prior to voting against the application.

Following the vote, Arlett said he believed it’s important to provide a reason for his vote.

“As we evolve as a county, it’s important yet again for us to determine how we can work together and work with our state agencies and our community, truly and effectively, to plan for our growth properly. I think, for me, what we’ve done in our past is not a reason to say no all the time.”

“All change isn’t good. Sometimes change can be bad,” responded Cole.

T.D. Rehoboth can appeal the council’s decision to the Court of Chancery within 60 days of the County formally publishing its decision.