County P&Z recommends denial of change

On Wednesday, the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend denial of an application for a proposed zoning change for a property in an AR-1 Agricultural Residential District to a B-1 Neighborhood Business District. The application pertained to about 4 acres of land west of Muddy Neck Road (Road 361) and northwest of Parker House Road (Road 362) and was made on behalf of Timothy E. Frank.

Commissioners also voted to deny a conditional-use application in an AR-1 agricultural residential district for antiques, gifts and produce and barbeque sales to be located on abut an acre of land on the westerly side of Double Bridges Road (Road 363) and 700 feet south of Muddy Neck Road (Road 361), filed on behalf of Timothy Elder.

They voted 4-0 to deny both applications, with P&Z member Rodney Smith recusing himself from voting on either matter.

Sussex County Council, which could not act at Tuesday’s public hearing on the issues because they had not yet received a recommendation from P&Z, will now have the issues placed on their next agenda. Councilman George Cole recused himself from the May 19 public hearing because of a conflict of interest.

On Tuesday, May 19, the county council heard opposition to both applications and they have since received more than 400 letters of opposition regarding the application to amend the comprehensive zoning map for Frank.

On Wednesday, planning commissioners stated that, in the case of Frank’s application, they would “recommend denial based upon the record at the public hearing. The applicant had not justified creating the B-1 Neighborhood Business District in that area, had not expressed a clear need, and a change of zone would not be in character with the surrounding residential properties.”

They also noted that, while certain conditions were spelled out in the application that the developer would meet, the county had no way of enforcing them, and “the need for such conditions suggests it is not appropriate for this site.”

Regarding Elder’s application for a conditional-use permit, they also recommended a denial based upon the record at the public hearing, stating that “the applicant has not demonstrated a need for a conditional use in this area. It is not consistent with the residential neighborhoods surrounding it or the wildlife refuge, which is in close proximity.”

They also stated that they were unclear on what the property would actually be used for and the “range of potential uses is not consistent with the property’s location on Double Bridges Road, which is also used as an evacuation route.”

Residents expressing opposition to the proposed zoning change at the council’s Tuesday meeting represented many areas, including Providence – a community of three-story townhouses that would look down on the proposed property – Summerfield, Plantation Park, Shady Dell Park and Savannah’s Landing. They were united in their argument of neither wanting nor needing a commercial property so close.

Gary Lee Coxe, president of the Shady Dell Homeowner’s Association, offered that there was plenty of commercial space in close proximity.

“There are four drugstores, six banks, five grocery stores, five medical complexes — some vacant – three gas stations, about 15 to 20 restaurants and 10 hair salons within about five minutes, many of which you don’t have to go on Route 26 to get to,” she said. She also said she believed the chances that the property would end up as presented to the council were unlikely.

“It’s slim to nil that it will be as presented,” she said. “I believe it will be sold as soon as possible to make a profit, and then we will have no say. There’s a formula on the Hill about the number of people behind each letter,” she added of the number of people who she believes would oppose the plan but didn’t write a letter doing so, along with the hundreds who did. “And it would be baffling, if not troublesome, for the council to put an investor before the hundreds of permanent, local residents, that are registered voters and taxpayers,” she said.

Many who spoke in opposition are also second-home owners with plans to retire in the area and who extensively researched the area before buying, prior to the change of zoning being proposed.

“As a business man, I did extensive research on the type of zoning and the surrounding area before purchasing,” said Pat Emlet, who resides in Chadds Ford, Pa., and has hopes of retiring to his Ocean View area home. “If I thought for a minute that Sussex County would have re-zoned it, I wouldn’t have thought about buying.”

Emlet and his wife, Diana, live about 49 feet away from the property in question and also reiterated to the council that they did not receive a courtesy notification of any kind. They found out about the change in the past two weeks, from Shady Dell resident Lori Fry, who went door to door.

“We have talked to hundreds of people in Providence, Summerfield, Hunters’ Run, Bethany Meadows, Plantation Park and others, and not one person wanted it. Three people didn’t want to get involved. We don’t want a strip mall but, more importantly, we don’t want it re-zoned,” said Diana Emlet before the P&Z decision was rendered.

Diana Emlet, with her neighbors, in the last few weeks has been instrumental in a grassroots campaign to bring awareness of the application. After hearing the P&Z recommendation of a denial, she said, “It’s exciting to know that the Planning and Zoning not only heard the voices but also listened. I mean, wow.” She added they can only hope that Sussex County Council will finalize a denial of the application.

Thomas E. Frank and Heidi Balliet, an attorney from Tunnell & Raysor P.A., and Mark Davidson of Design Consultants Group L.L.C were present at last Tuesday’s hearing to submit the application, which included a site plan proposing three buildings, totaling 27,448 square feet, with an entrance off of Road 361.

Sussex County Council has the final say on whether the applications are denied. Now that there is an official recommendation of denial from P&Z, the council will have the applications on their next agenda, as old business, for a vote.

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