Jones takes over county council leadership

Democrat Finley Jones of Sussex County’s second district took over the reins as president of the county council on Tuesday, Jan. 8, succeeding outgoing Council President Dale Dukes (D-1st) with the first vote of the council in 2008.
The change was greeted with mirth by Councilman George Cole, (R-4th), who routinely finds himself at odds with his peers on the five-man council.

“Mr. Dukes’ reign of terror is coming to an end, and now we’re going into the Dark Ages,” he commented in some good-natured ribbing.

The council selected Councilman Lynn Rogers (D-3rd) for council vice president and largely renewed the council members’ previous duties of oversight for various county projects and issue areas.

County Administrator David Baker reported Tuesday that the Wolf Neck wastewater treatment facility in West Rehoboth had done well in a report from the state. Inspectors complimented the county’s engineering department and its staff and praised the facility’s good condition on inspection. They also noted major improvements to spray irrigation fields on runoff.

Baker also reported the reaffirmation of the county’s AA Standard and Poors bond rating. The report from the company noted the stability of the local economy and its performance. Baker thanked Finance Director Susan Webb, her staff and the county council, noting that the high bond rating lowers interest costs and saves money for county residents.

Council members on Jan. 8 also heard requests from a number of local police departments for annual dispersals from the county’s municipal police funding. Dewey Beach police pulled their full $25,000 annual allotment for a new patrol vehicle, while Millsboro police asked for their $25,000 for various equipment and Frankford police asked for the full amount for a computer, police vehicle and new radar gun unit. The council voted unanimously to grant the requests.

Also unanimously approved were two wastewater agreements. The first is for Hickman Beach Plaza, at Route 1 and Pennsylvania Avenue, which will become part of the South Bethany sewer district. The extension will service three commercial buildings, with 10 days of construction expected.

The second agreement is for the four-lot Captain’s Place development, southwest of the Assawoman Canal and Cedar Neck Road, which will become part of the Ocean View expansion of the Bethany Beach sewer district. Construction there is expected to take eight days.

Council members also approved the posting of notices regarding a requested expansion of the Dagsboro sewer district to include a property planned for use by American Legion Post 24 and adjacent property owned by Rupert Smith.

The American Legion has plans for a new facility there, and wants a connection to county sewer. County engineers said they had made an agreement with the group on use of the facility until a sewer connection is made, with provisions for a temporary holding tank until then.

The public hearing on the request is set for Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.

Planning applications deferred

Council deferred on a series of planning decisions presented at public hearings on Tuesday afternoon, the deferrals being required until planning commissioners make a recommendation on the applications, having previously deferred.

Among the hearings Tuesday was one for a conditional use requested by Keith Smith for use of 1.23 acres of property in the AR-1 district for commercial storage.

The property, north of Route 17 and west of Route 20, at Roxana, currently includes a retail shop, four storage buildings formerly used in Smith’s plumbing business and a blacksmith’s shop. Smith, who has downsized his plumbing business, said he would like to convert the storage units to between four and 12 commercially available storage units.

Some of the neighboring residents did state opposition to the plan, citing concerns about noise and other problems. Smith said he was willing to limit hours of operation and install a fence to buffer the property. There were no comments from council members or the audience on Tuesday.

Council members also heard on Tuesday from Bernard Dera, who is seeking a conditional use for three (originally four) multi-family dwelling units on his 32,653-square-foot property west of Cedar Neck Road and north of the Assawoman Canal, outside Ocean View, in the GR general residential district.

Dera has faced vehement opposition from a number of the property’s neighbors, and — in principle — from county engineers over the provision of sewer for that many units. Engineers said the sewer system design did not anticipate multi-family development and thus provided for one EDU only, for the existing single-family home.

But his attorney argued that there is sufficient acreage to support three dwelling units in GR, under base density rules, even if multi-family dwellings require a conditional use to be granted.

The attorney said Dera was no longer arguing that the county use the standard for mobile homes to set density on the property but he said the unique triangular shape of the lot had prevented it from being efficiently used for two single-family lots, as originally desired. The applicants pointed to the surrounding mixed-use community with retail, mobile homes and single-family homes surrounding the lot.

“Creation of multi-family units is a net gain for the community” over mobile homes, he said.

Cole and opponents of the project stated concerns over the potential precedent to set if the county allows the three multi-family units on the property, though.

Among the opponents is Dera’s neighbor and uncle, Bob Dera, who presented a petition of opposition containing signatures of five neighbors. “If you give it to one, you have to give it to all,” Bob Dera said, suggesting that the project would impair the value of surrounding homes.

The council deferred its decision on the Dera application as well, pending a recommending from planning officials.

Finally on Tuesday, council members made a $500 grant to the Friends of the South Coastal Library for its capital campaign for the new library and community center.