Sussex County Council defers on conditional-use requests

The Sussex County Council this week deferred action on two conditional-use requests, both of which had been made to address violations of county code.

In the case involving Fishkiller’s, near Dagsboro, the Planning & Zoning Commission had previously deferred action on the requested conditional use, and since county council is required to also defer action until the P&Z has voted, the council deferred on their vote after this week’s hearing.

The owners’ of Fishkiller’s had been sent a letter from DelDOT, stating that the business was in violation of an entrance permit requirement. Shirley Townsend, who owns the business along with her husband, waterman Chester “Chet” Townsend IV, said this is the fourth summer they have operated the business — the first three summers on a rented piece of land and now on a piece of land they own.

“We want to make our business pretty, safe, clean and neat, and want to go through all the proper channels,” she told the council. She added that she had just received a letter from DelDOT this week, and that she had thought they had gotten a verbal OK from Planning & Zoning.

“My husband is a waterman. He catches lobster, and we wanted a business to share our recipes with our neighbors there in Dagsboro,” she said.

“So you weren’t aware you needed permits if you have had a business for four years?” asked Councilman George Cole.

“Someone told us the process started with DelDOT,” she replied, “I think that was you,” she said to Cole, “and we started it...” She also questioned if they had received all of their mail from the County.

Cole also said she should look at the County’s sign ordinance and if they wanted more signage than was allowed, they would have to go through the Board of Adjustment.

“The first letter was saying you needed to apply for a conditional use. The second was about the trailer that is there — you would need a special-use exception for that, and you should also look into the County’s sign ordinance,” explained Cole.

Townsend said they would “certainly do what is required.” She also said she had heard that if they paid more, they could have more signs.

“No, you could ask for a variance,” clarified Cole.

The council deferred action on the request this week, as did the P&Z, whose commissioners wanted to discuss the numerous signs on the site. The P&Z was set to meet again and talk about it under old business this Thursday, Aug. 23.

The county council this week also deferred action on a conditional use filed on behalf of Mark A. Giblin for a land north of Zion Church Road and southeast of Roxana Road in Roxana. They kept the record open so County staff could visually inspect the property to see what types of businesses are being run there and also to have their legal counsel check to see if the hearing was properly advertised.

In the legal advertisement that was sent to newspapers and in the council’s packet this week, the notice of the hearing on the request read that it was to “grant a conditional use of land in an AR-1 Agricultural Residential district for a towing service and landscaping to be located...”

The actual application is for “towing (comma) service [as in auto service], landscaping and an impound yard,” the latter of which wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the notice. P&Z had recommended approval, but with the confusion and with some opposition expressed, county council deferred action.

James Mursham, owner of Jim’s Bait ’n’ Tackle, whose property backs up the property in question, spoke in opposition to the conditional use, saying that when people put Giblin’s address into a GPS, they come to Mursham’s driveway. Mursham questioned why he had done everything legally required to obtain a conditional use and his neighbor “waited until he got in trouble before trying to become legal.”

“I own a construction company. If I don’t get the correct permits and licenses, I get shut down. People [already] come there now, as a service center. I went through the proper course of action — I didn’t wait for a violation to come and get me. I am petrified about my property value — not to mention the crazy violent people that can come to get their cars at an impound yard.”

He also said he feared it would become a repo business — something Giblin said he had no intentions of doing.

A representative from Coastal Towing in Lewes also spoke in opposition, saying he “didn’t begrudge anybody from going into business, but his application did not say storage.” He reiterated that Giblin stores vehicles and charges for it and had one “being serviced the other day with no drain pan. … Also, has the fire marshal ever been there? Is there a fire extinguisher in the building?”

He also took exception to Giblin’s statement that it would be an 8-to-5 business. Giblin had said they would not release any vehicles after 5 p.m.

“I tow for Dewey Beach, and you have to open that gate, collect that money and turn them loose, 24/7. If he hasn’t went by the rules since day one, who is going to keep him in line? If you give him an inch, he will take a mile. Have him go back to the drawing board and tell you everything he wants. I saw somewhere in the application he was going to sell Christmas trees.”

Franklin Bennett, who stated his address as a post office box in Ocean View, owns an impound yard and also spoke in opposition.

“If it’s 10 p.m. at night and you want your car, I have to give it to you,” he said, also questioning the hours stated by Giblin.

“This is smoke and mirrors. I went out there the other day, and I call it a junkyard. There were about a hundred tires. There were abandoned vehicles, weeds. I have an impound yard, and when you have one, you have to worry about theft...”

There was one letter of support, from the owner of Roxana Athletic Club.

The county council decided they would keep the record open for county staff to inspect the property and also for them to receive an opinion about the way the hearing was advertised. They deferred any other action.