Harbeson-area residents will have to wait another week to find out whether or not a country music festival may be heading their way.
On Tuesday, the Sussex County Council voted 3-2 to defer 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 zone 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.
At the Aug. 12 council meeting, Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson told council that the Planning & Zoning Commission had on the prior Thursday recommended denial of the application, with a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Rodney Smith voting against the recommendation for denial.
Robertson said the commission’s reasoning was that the presentation lacked substance and sufficient detail. However, it was noted that such events could benefit the county.
County Attorney J. Everett Moore stated that the County does see applications that have less than completely engineered site plans. He said that the County had been presented with a Google Earth-type map, that “did not have all the requirements of a site plan.”
Councilman Vance Phillips moved that the council approve the conditional-use application with conditions, including that it would be valid for three years after the issuance of final site-plan approval by the commission, with a review two years following, through public hearings before the council and commission.
Phillips conditions stipulated that no more than 5,000 RVs or campers would be permitted on the site during any event or festival, and it would be limited to 20,000 people during its first year of operation and be permitted to grow by 5,000 attendees each year — allowing a maximum of 30,000 attendees in its third year of operation.
Councilman George Cole voiced his concern as to how those numbers would be enforced.
“It’s going to be an enforcement issue,” he said. “How would we ever keep track of that?”
Phillips said that, in terms of the RVs, the County could take an aerial photograph at an event’s peak and have staff count the RVs on-site.
“This event has the potential for a huge economic impact on this county,” said Phillips. “If they are over 5,000 RVs, we have the ability to pull the plug.”
Councilwoman Joan Deaver remarked that, during the application, Pires had stated that he would not agree to a set number of RVs because that would impact his profit margin.
“Just a remark,” she said.
Phillips’ motion also stipulated that no more than four festivals or events would be permitted in a given calendar year.
Cole said that proposed condition concerned him because there was no specified time of year for the events.
“As most people know, we have different problems with our infrastructure at different times of the year, so I’m kind of concerned about that,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s appropriate for us to be hiring our County staff to go out there and count people.”
Phillips’ proposed conditions would require the applicants to comply with all County and State agency requirements, including the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, Delaware State Police and the Delaware Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
Cole said that, although the council had heard from DelDOT about how the event would be handled, he didn’t believe anything had been entered into the record from other agencies.
“I don’t know if he met with DNREC. I don’t know if he met with the fire marshal. I don’t believe he met with the County EMS. I don’t believe we had any correspondence from any of these other agencies,” said Cole, adding that he believed that, given the size of the property, there should’ve been more agency input.
“We don’t know if they like the idea. We didn’t hear from any of these agencies… We have no idea if the state police is going to be able to provide that kind of stuff, because of their manpower.”
Under Phillips motion, two of the festivals would be allowed to be open for a period not to exceed four days and four nights, with the remaining two only allow to last one day and one night.
Phillips also proposed that all performances would terminate no later than midnight, with stage lighting to be shut off by 12:30 a.m. each night — and with no lights shining onto adjacent properties or roadways.
The motion also stipulated that all structures associated with any festival or event on the property would be temporary in nature. Stages erected would have to be located at least 1,000 feet from any adjacent property or roadway, with the orientation and sound equipment directed away from the nearest property boundary line or roadway.
Council President Michael Vincent said he shared the same concerns as the Planning & Zoning Commission with regard to the lack of detail provided to the County.
“This is a large project — this is 500 acres. What they filed… doesn’t show anything,” he said, noting that there were no internal lines delineated on the map or emergency vehicle access indicated.
“When I heard the applicant, when a couple of issues came up, the response from the applicant was, ‘Tell me what you want, and I’ll do it.’ To me, a conditional use, when you apply for it, the burden is on you, the applicant, to tell us what you want to do with that property… Maybe I’m wrong. If I am, please, please correct me.”
Vincent emphasized that the council is tasked with the difficult decision of whether or not to approve the application.
“I feel very uncomfortable, personally, that we do not have enough information provided by them on the site plan as to what exactly is going to take place. I love country music, but I think we have to be fair. This is not a small project… it’s big. I’m concerned about the preliminary site plan and what they gave to us. I don’t think it’s detailed.”
Phillips then withdrew his motion and suggested deferring the council’s vote until the following week’s meeting.
Phillips said the deferral could give the applicant the opportunity to withdraw their application, so as to have the opportunity to reapply at a later date with a more detailed site plan.
Robertson said the applicant could withdraw their application to the County following public hearings, “for good cause shown, if the majority of members of the county council shall vote to allow such withdrawal.”
The council voted 3-2 to defer their decision on the conditional-use application until its Aug. 19 meeting, with Deaver and Cole opposed to the deferral.
“There are some questions. I don’t think one week is going to make a big difference,” said Vincent.
Council looks to regulate rogue produce stand
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council also discussed the County code related to vendors, produce stands and signs.
County Administrator Todd Lawson told that council that, while the overwhelming majority of roadside stands within the county are legal, “We are seeing more and more stands operating that are not legal because of their location.”
In the county code, a temporary produce stand is permitted for no more than six months per year, to sell seasonal products grown by the owner of the property.
Lawson said that, as of late, the County has run into cases in which stands are located on commercial lots without proper permitting. He stated that such locational use could require site-plan review, a variance for setbacks and possible conditional-use approval.
“The traditional produce stand on the side of the road, whether it’s a large operation… or a small garden… those are not the problem. It’s the people who pull into the parking lot, they take two or three parking spots, and they stay there all summer long. That is not legal within the county code unless they come before this body or P&Z and receive the conditions that are required to operate.”
Cole said he believed the issue needed to be addressed to ensure the safety of those selling and purchasing the products on the side of the road. He added that a lack of enforcement could also lead to conflict between businesses.
“You’ve got a food vendor operating without the permits, right down from a business who has gone through all the steps… They don’t like it. They feel as if that’s taking money out of their pockets,” he said.
The council agreed to have County staff and Planning & Zoning review the county code and to return at a later date with recommendations.
“There should be a way to make it simpler and more practical,” said Deaver.