The Shore Democrats last week got some inside information as to how the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission conducts business.
P&Z Chairman Bob Wheatley, along with Bethany Beach resident and District 4 Commissioner Rodney Smith, spoke to an assembled group of members, explaining that P&Z is a five-person commission, where no more than two members can come from any one district.
The Planning & Zoning Commission deals with changes of zoning, conditional uses and subdivisions.
“Everything we do is governed by the planning and zoning ordinance,” said Wheatley. “We often have to act on things that we may not like, but our job as planning and zoning commissioners is to measure the application against the ordinance. Whatever the ordinance says goes.”
Wheatley, who has served on the commission for 20 years, said the P&Z makes recommendations to Sussex County Council, though the council is not bound to follow those recommendations.
“And sometimes they don’t,” he said.
Smith, who grew up in Georgetown, has served on the commission since 2004. His father had also served on the commission. Smith said one of the things he has seen in his tenure is misunderstanding or general apathy from the public regarding planning and zoning matters.
“They do themselves a disservice by not getting involved,” he said.
Smith recommended that the public attend some of the meetings to understand what the commission does, as it could be beneficial to them later on.
“Then, if you have an issue that directly affects you and your property rights or your quality of life, you’ll be better prepared when you come in,” he explained.
Wheatley said the commission often hears that ‘their comments don’t make a difference.’
“They do make a difference,” he emphasized.
Wheatley said public comments will make the most difference when the county land-use plan revision process starts.
“That’s where you can affect policy, because that’s how that policy is being created. I can tell you, having been through it three times previously, what people say at those meetings does get heard and does get incorporated into the plan.”
He also noted that citizens may lobby their county council representative regarding an issue of concern.
Wheatley said the hiring of P&Z manager Janelle Cornwell earlier this year will help coordinate between departments within the County and between the County and State.
One attendee asked if a moratorium could be imposed for construction — noting specifically that Route 54 is a high-growth area — until services are increased in those more rural areas.
“Is there such a thing as a moratorium on what you can build and when to build?” she asked.
“There is such a thing,” responded Wheatley. “It’s certainly a possibility, but I would say it’s not a probability. I don’t think there would be much support for a moratorium.”
Wheatley said what could be a better solution would to be better at planning improvements.
Smith noted that, when Bayside was developed on Route 54, the road improvements were paid for by the Freeman Companies and then deeded to the State. He said the same was true for the traffic circle in Millville by the Sea.
“In the case of Bayside, it amounted to about $14 million of improvements on the property,” said Wheatley of the Delaware Department of Transportation’s improvement requirements.
Wheatley and Smith emphasized that those who are concerned about what is going on in the county should attend meetings, become more informed and involved.
The next Shore Democrats meeting will be Wednesday, May 20.