For now, concerned Harbeson-area residents can breathe a sigh of relief, as the Sussex County Council approved this week the withdrawal of a conditional-use application that would allow for a music festival on a farmland property near the town.
Last week, the council had deferred their decision on a conditional-use application submitted by Cool Spring LLC and Highway One, which requests permission to use 500 acres of farmland in an AR-1 agricultural residential district on Hollyville Road, owned by the Baker family, for a facility for outdoor entertainment events with temporary camping facilities.
The application was presented by Dewey Beach businessman Alex Pires, who would organize country music and folk music festivals to be held on the property, if the conditional use is approved.
Since the vote for a deferral, Pires’ attorney, Stephen Spence, submitted a letter to the council requesting to withdrawal the conditional-use application.
“It is apparent that when this application was first filed, there was some initial misunderstanding on my client’s part as to the mandatory requirement for presentation of a preliminary site plan,” wrote Spence.
“While it is clear in the county code that preliminary site plan is required as part of the application process for conditional-use applications generally, my client believed that its areal maps and surveys submitted at the time of the application were sufficient to allow the application to proceed, because this application did not contemplate any site development.”
The letter from Spence also recognized that, throughout the process, there has been a great deal of opposition to the application.
“My client has heard and taken note of the many concerns of the surrounding property owners and other interested parties, and the concerns of the commission that there was insufficient detail in the submitted exhibits to make an informed recommendation as to this unique temporary use.”
Spence also wrote that Pires believes the festivals would have a positive impact on the local economy.
“However, my client understands that, notwithstanding the initial misunderstanding as to the mandatory need for a preliminary site plan for the unique type of conditional use, the withdrawal of this application is appropriate to allow the County to properly consider the request on its merits.”
Councilman George Cole said he was concerned that granting such a withdrawal request could set a precedent.
“There should be good reasons, and there should be a threshold of what a good reason is. From what I just heard is, the only good reason was it was a misunderstanding between the attorney and the client, who’s also an attorney,” said Cole. “I don’t know if that rises to the threshold. If it does, we’re going to establish something here today that says just having a misunderstanding is a good reason to withdrawal an application…
“To me, the key to that letter was there was a misunderstanding in what’s required and what’s not. I’m just asking council, is that something we want to use as a precedent in the future?”
County Attorney J. Everett Moore stated that an applicant may withdrawal an application without a vote of council, up to two days prior to the application’s first public hearing before council.
Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank said that, in most cases, the applicant is able to find out what the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendation to the council will be, prior to the application’s first public hearing.
“This has only happened a couple times,” Lank said of times when the Commission delays a decision until after a public hearing before the council, “but in most cases, they get the opinion of the Commission and realize that it’s negative and will assume the council will have the same difficulties and withdraw before it gets to council’s schedule,” he explained. “In this case, you had the public hearing scheduled before the Commission made a recommendation.”
The council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Joan Deaver opposed, to grant the withdrawal at the request of the applicant.
Cole said he supported the withdrawal request due to the Commission’s recommendation being submitted following the application’s public hearings.
Lank noted that, if Cool Spring LLC and Highway One wish to continue to seek a conditional-use variance for the Baker property to be used for a music festival, an entirely new application will have to be submitted to the County.