The Sussex County Council this week approved a blanket three-year extension, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013, for subdivision, conditional-use and residential planned community approvals, on the recommendation of the Planning & Zoning Commission.
The extensions — which the County had granted in prior years, though not without controversy — have been described as a way to aid developers, and the local economy, in recovering from the recession, during which the pace of development and sales slowed dramatically, due both to reduced demand and difficulty in obtaining loans, among other factors.
The council heard on Tuesday from Joe Conaway, a Sussex Economic Development Action Committee (SEDAC) board member, who reiterated points he had made in December, when the ordinance was introduced, saying, “We think it has merit. Things are starting to pick up, but not on the level needed. People just can’t do what they need to do in a timely process.”
Rodney Wyatt of Artesian Water spoke on behalf of local utilities and said they were in support of the extension because having deadlines “causes us to spend money we wouldn’t normally spend. The deadline is an impediment and would require us to put in infrastructure that’s not ready to be used, and that’s not cost-effective.”
Heidi Gilmore of the law firm Tunnel & Razor, said that, from her perspective “on the settlement side, we are beginning to see signs of life of recovery,” but she said they still see foreclosures and short sales and houses that don’t appraise well.
“If you could just give it a little more time and be careful to not just say, ‘No more.’ No extensions are going to drive up the cost. There is an answer, but I don’t think ending it today is it. That’s from my settlement perspective,” she said.
Realtor Lit Dryden also spoke in favor of the extensions, saying that there could be positives, such as more jobs and reduced unemployment, if the County granted them, if the County “gave the economy a chance to come back a little more.”
Councilwoman Joan Deaver maintained her stance on the issue, again voting against the extensions. She said that, in her district, “We have building everywhere. We have homes being sold before they are even built. If we approve this, we’ll find ourselves building something that was approved six or seven years ago. And it’s the blind leading the blind.”
Councilman Vance Phillips said his yes vote was because he thought it would have a positive impact on the local economy, as did Councilman Sam Wilson.
Councilman George Cole said he thought the extensions were “smoke and mirrors the first time, and the economy is not turning around. It is just sort of laying around. Three years is too long to continue this charade, but I’ll vote in favor, just to show Mr. Wilson we can agree. Will it work? Will it do anything? Eh, but I’ll vote yes.”
Deaver said she would have voted for the extension if it was for only another year but she reiterated that she thought three was too many.
Council President Michael Vincent said with his yes vote, “We should try to do all we can do to help anything move forward. I don’t see where it can hurt anything.”