Castaways developers drop applications for controversial project

Castaways Bethany LLC has officially withdrawn their applications to Sussex County Council that would have paved the way for multi-family duplex residential units, an RV campground and a waterpark on Cedar Neck Road near Ocean View — a proposal that has garnered much opposition since September, when the applications were first heard.

In a letter dated Dec. 21 and addressed to the county council, attorney James A. Fuqua Jr., representing Castaways Bethany, stated that “based on the Planning & Zoning’s recommendation of denial, and particularly the concerns addressed concerning increased traffic on Cedar Neck Road by residential vehicles, campers and similar oversized vehicles, the applicant would like the opportunity to withdraw the pending applications and reconsider alternative options for the development of the property.”

At the public hearing on the zoning and conditional-use application in September, Fuqua had explained that the plan called for 1.02 acres of land that is adjacent to land already zoned commercial to go from MR medium-residential to CR-1 commercial-residential zoning, to become part of the waterpark location. He said a water park is a permitted conditional use within a commercial zone, “hence the application” for the conditional use.

Two other portions of the three parcels, making up about five acres, would have gone from MR to AR agricultural-residential, with a portion of those to encompass the campground. The third application, for a conditional use, addressed the property as a whole.

In December, all three applications were recommended by Planning & Zoning to be denied, with a vote of 3-2 on each one. P&Z Chairman Robert Wheatley and Commissioner Martin Ross dissented on each vote, both recommending approval.

The project has seen considerable opposition from residents and neighbors since the original September public hearing, with arguments against it including more traffic that the road cannot handle, noise from the waterpark, a negative effect on neighboring property values and a general idea that the project was not suitable for the area and its current zoning.

Arguments for the project included the fact that it is near the tourist and recreational activities that attract most people to southeastern Sussex County, including the beach, the bay and wildlife areas, and would add jobs and revenue to the already-growing area.

More than 400 letters and more than 288 petition signatures opposing the project were received. In his motion to recommend denial, Commissioner Rodney Smith echoed many of the sentiments brought up by opponents and argued that no other parties besides the applicant and its representatives ever publicly spoke in favor of the project. He said the “proposed use as a transient campground and waterpark is not consistent with the County’s plan for the area.”

“The proposed use as a waterpark, with the accompanying traffic, noise, lighting, waterslides and other amusement structures, is not compatible with residential properties that exist up and down Cedar Neck Road,” he said.

He also questioned traffic concerns and concerns about how pedestrians along the road and coming from the campground would be taken into account.

“The traffic concerns along Cedar Neck Road are self-evident. I am not satisfied the road can handle it.”

Harry Kreger, who along with hundreds of his neighbors had expressed opposition to the project, said he felt “grateful” that he and his neighbors were heard.

“It was a real grassroots approach, and the people of Cedar Neck have been outstanding. They really came out of the woodwork. This area has really been established as a residential area complemented by protected natural habitat, and the applicant was going against the grain. And when we moved here, we not only bought into our property but we bought into a lifestyle — a lifestyle that is so different than what was proposed. It just didn’t fit. And we didn’t want it. It’s not nice to say it that way, but it’s the truth. It’s not welcome here.”

Kreger said he and his wife, Irmi, felt an “interim” sense of relief, adding that he was pretty sure the applicant would come back with another plan.

“I just hope that, when they do come back, it’s with something that is more conducive to the nature of this great community.”