County council rejects Double Bridges business

Less than two weeks after Sussex County planning commissioners on Tuesday, June 9, recommended denial of a conditional-use application that would have permitted the sale of barbecue, antiques, beach goods, produce and firewood on an agriculturally zoned property on Double Bridges Road, county council members followed that recommendation, voting 3-2 against approving the project.

The application for the project, to be located on about an acre of land on the westerly side of Double Bridges Road (Road 363) and 700 feet south of Muddy Neck Road (Road 361), was filed on behalf of property owner Timothy Elder, who had planned a tent or similar open structure to serve as a place from which he could sell items ranging from hotdogs, hamburgers, barbecue and produce to beach sundries, antiques and firewood, according to his original application.

The planning commissioners recommended denial of the application after a public hearing on May 20 and a prior hearing before the county council.
Commissioners said in their recommendation to the council that Elder had not demonstrated need for the proposed use in that area, near a sharp curve where the road becomes Muddy Neck Road – and on which a Salisbury, Md., man was killed on Tuesday, after losing control of his motorcycle.

The commissioners said the proposed uses were not consistent with the surrounding residential areas and wildlife refuge, and that Elder had been too unclear about what exactly his intended uses were, but that the range of uses presented were not consistent with the Double Bridges Road area. They had voted 4-0-1 to recommend denial, with Commissioner Rodney Smith not voting.

On Tuesday, Planning Director Lawrence Lank presented council members with a proposed motion that would have approved the project – in keeping with the council’s preference of voting against an approval rather than voting in favor of denial. Lank’s motion, if approved, would have limited the business to operating between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. between May 18 and Oct. 18 of each year and would have limited items sold to barbecue, firewood and produce.

Council members largely rejected the motion’s notion that the project would reduce traffic to Route 26 and offer a convenience to nearby residence at a level that offset any adverse impact.

“I vote no,” said Councilman George Cole (R-5th). “It’s in a poor location, and it would set a precedent for other activities in that residential area of Double Bridges Road.” Pointing out that “It’s on a bad curve,” he also noted that there are no similar uses in that area now.

Cole said he also had problems with Elder’s long list of items that might be sold at the business.

“It seems like he was throwing stuff out there, hoping it would stick,” Cole said. Lank listed some of the items listed for potential sale under the original application: antiques, lawn furniture, T-shirts, hotdogs and hamburgers, shaved ice, ice cream, firewood, produce…

Cole also noted that there had been “a lot of opposition” to both of the recent applications for businesses in that area, both of which were recommended for denial by planners.

“There are townhouses approved right around the bend,” he added, pointing out that locations with food being cooked on-site, as proposed by Elder, often have “the smell of food wafting everywhere.”

In fact, Cole recommended the council strike the sale of barbecued foods from the revised list of uses, if there was any support to approve the application at all. Council members voted unanimously to strike that use, permitting only the sale of produce and firewood, but were closely divided on whether to approve the more limited application.

They voted 3-2 against the application for sale of those two items, with Councilwoman Joan Deaver saying she felt the use was inappropriate for a residential area, as well as in a bad place for traffic. Councilman Michael H. Vincent and Cole also voted in opposition. Council President Vance Phillips voted in favor, as did Councilman Sam Wilson.

Also at the June 9 council meeting:

• The council delayed consideration of an ordinance designed to facilitate the improvement of streets and roadways owned and controlled by homeowners associations, under a program that would make it easier for those groups to apply to the county for help with road improvements.
Changes were designed to streamline the process and would change the voting procedures to permit voting only by property owners, not residents, among other changes, including making the required vote for application to the program a 50 percent vote of property owners. Council members discussed limiting voting to one vote per property and one vote maximum per person.

That issue, as well as a proposed cap on payment at the rate charged for 100 linear feet and whether to charge the same amount on improved and unimproved properties, led the council to ask for a revision before the ordinance is considered again. That is likely to come next Tuesday.

• Council members approved a fourth time extension for a conditional-use approval near Rehoboth Beach, owing to a 17-month delay on the project over DelDOT’s investigation of right-of-way issues there. But Cole took issue with the owner’s complaint that “marketing issues” – the state of the local real estate market – might be grounds for a further extension. “Marketing shouldn’t be a reason the council considers another extension,” he said. The county normally permits two time extensions for an approved project to reach substantial completion.

• County officials reported that the county constable’s office had been making a strong effort recently at collecting outstanding sewer and water bills, and property taxes, taking in about $600,000 since October.

They noted that the county tries “to work with people who are behind as much as possible,” with Finance Director Susan Webb saying they “try not to sell properties out from under people” and sell more second homes and abandoned properties than primary residences at county tax sales. Homes with outstanding bills or taxes due to the county have a lien placed on them after two years of delinquency, at which time the issue would be raised before any sale.

Phillips said he had put out feelers on the potential impact of a tax penalty amnesty program to try to get people in compliance with their taxes and county bills, but he said the response from school officials – who receive 85 percent of total taxes collected as school funding – was that they’d rather be patient and wait for full payment, with penalties. He also floated the notion of publishing the list of delinquent customers and property owners.

• Officials announced the relocation of the Clerk of the Peace’s office, which has moved to the county administrative building’s second floor from a rented property in Georgetown.