County approves changes to bonding requirements

Despite the testimony of numerous constituents who spoke in opposition to an ordinance change that allows a property owner to perform site work or construct improvements without posting a bond, Sussex County council on Tuesday decided 4-1 to approve it, albeit with a caveat of it automatically expiring in two years.

The amendment pertains to Chapter 99, Section 99-32 of the code of Sussex County and “allows a landowner to perform site work or construct certain improvements without posting a bond or performance guaranty.”

Several of those in opposition live in Reddenwood Forest in Milton, a development that is currently having difficulty receiving promised infrastructure from their developer.

“I am wholeheartedly against this,” said Gordon Giersch of Milton. “The 70-plus land- and homeowners I represent stand to be required to complete the work that the developer, Ocean Atlantic, didn’t do.

“If they can walk away from a bond, what are other people who buy from smaller builders going to do? Be required to do roads and sidewalks?” he asked. “It’s astounding to me that this is happening, and you are going to dilute the code even more. It makes absolutely no sense to me. “

Other speakers also commented that the amendment would weaken the current code and do little to protect the ultimate owners of the lots/homes within a development.

Peter Pagani of Reddenwood, who is a licensed architect and former land planner, said that, while he has an interest in having a strong construction industry, “I urge you to not allow this exception. The risk overwhelms that. And this shifts the risk to the people who eventually buy the lots. They assume a risk they didn’t know about.”

Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson, who works with the county Planning & Zoning Commission and was sitting in for County Attorney Everett Moore on Jan. 10, explained that the amendment “does not eliminate bonding – it just postpones it until third parties come into play. It is [for the time] up until getting a building permit or transferring a lot, which they cannot do unless they post bond, a letter of credit or a cash bond.”

Dale Wheatley of Bridgeville said he thought people were misunderstanding things.

“There’s no more risk than there was before. You changed it a few years back, and we just want to try and get it back to the way it was before. You can’t sell a house until you have the bond — why is there any more risk?”

Doug Simpson, also of Bridgeville, said he was in favor of the proposed amendment.

“No one is asking someone who bought a lot to have more risk,” he said. “It is just an opportunity to put in infrastructure without the extra costs of regulation. It is just so the developers can not be saddled with extra costs. Right now, banks are requiring cash for bonding — it’s impossible.”

Councilman Sam Wilson said, “You see the project. It’s far better off than a promise. Here, no third party exists. How can you be cheated if you don’t have a dime in it?”

Ultimately, the council decided 4-1, with Councilwoman Joan Deaver dissenting, that no further risk would be put on potential buyers and that the chance that a construction boom would result in jobs outweighed any perceived risk.

“If the reason is the economy,” said Councilman George Cole, “then this will help us get over the hump.”

They amended the amendment to include language “sunsetting” it two years from adoption. It also includes language that no lots would be sold and no building permits issued until all infrastructure is completed or a bond is posted.

In other county news:

• The county council deferred a decision and left the record open on two public hearings pertaining to disability benefits for county employees, pending comments from the county personnel board.

• The council approved a conditional-use application for a hot dog/hamburger vending unit to be placed on lands in Dagsboro Hundred, at the northwest corner of Shortly Road and Hardscrabble Road.

• The council approved a conditional-use application for land in a MR-medium density residential district for a multi-family dwelling structure (two units) to be located in Baltimore Hundred in the Tower Shores subdivision east of Route 1.