Delaware was “the First State,” incorporated into the new Union on Dec. 7, 1787. But to this day, some Americans probably couldn’t tell where that first state is located. Delaware may fly under the radar for most people, but its business-friendly tax structure makes it an ideal home base for half of the Fortune 500 companies and, most recently, a drove of salivating developers, scratching to get a piece of the Sussex County real estate pie.
Citizens for a Better Sussex (CBS) voiced their concern for the recent development explosion in Sussex County, but more specifically, about the disproportionate growth in the eastern half of the county and the effects it’s having on the environment.
Low income taxes have drawn retirees and business owners to Sussex County’s coastal region like moths to a floodlight, and the county has accommodated the new arrivals — but at what cost?
CBS members listed bay pollution, sewage shortcomings and inadequate roadways to sustain the population boom as just some of the negative impacts associated with the development boom.
Adding to the frustrations, CBS feels area residents are being squeezed by county council officials, most of who live in western Sussex County and don’t feel the effects of “irresponsible development.”
They assert that, though the western half of the county only counted for 33 percent of the vote in the last presidential election, residents of that area hold 40 percent control of the county council (Vance Phillips and Dale Dukes are from Laurel and represent the first and fifth districts).
CBS desperately wants what they feel would be proportionate representation for their blossoming districts.
In response, state Rep. Joe Booth (R – Georgetown) initiated HB 170, which would add two at-large votes to the county council and which was passed by the House on a 34-4 vote. But the bill has languished in Sen. Thurman Adams’ committee.
Adams offered Senate Bill 304 as an alternative. It would add two more seats following the 2010 census and would take effect in 2012. But who knows how much more development the county can take before irreparable damage is done?
State Sen. George Howard Bunting noted that if CBS or other groups wanted to change the current land plan then they would have to change the existing draft of the comprehensive land-use plan and go by the law.
“Everyone wants the quick fix, but you have to go by the law and take the public course,” Bunting said. “They can request a new comprehensive land-use plan, but it’s a process. And when you start tinkering with that, you’re going down a real slippery slope.”
CBS President and Rehoboth Beach resident Joan Deaver said that the group has presented its concerns and has been stonewalled at every turn.
“It’s a show, and it’s ridiculous,” she said of the County Council’s disregard for their attempts to change the plan. “They want to keep people talking, but they don’t do what we ask and they still vote four to one.” (Councilman George Cole generally votes against the majority.)
“We could have something good, but the state has given the county too much authority and it doesn’t follow its own laws. According to Title 9 (of state code) they’re supposed to coordinate the infrastructure with development, and they aren’t doing that.”
Deaver expressed her frustrations about not having enough votes on the existing council to make any type of change. She also discussed at the May 18 CBS meeting how to attract and possibly bankroll potential candidates to run against Dukes and Phillips in this year’s election.
County Council Member George Cole made mention that Dukes only won by 200 votes in his last run, against late entry Mike Vincent.
Vincent operated on a minimal “war chest” and campaigning, which could signal a great opportunity for CBS and other like-minded individuals to roll the dice in upcoming elections.
Longneck resident and CBS member Barbara Lifflander, of the 41st district, ran against Rep. John Adkins in the last election, partly because there wasn’t any opposition. But this year, she’s declared and mobilized.
”I’m not a politician,” she said. “I’m just an ordinary citizen who’s tired of seeing local representatives ignore the ongoing problems. What kind of demand are you going to have (for real estate) if the bay smells like it does?”
Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control official Rob Gano mentioned that he’s seen development on every border of the county’s refuges.
“I’ve seen development approved on every border and it’s effected how we protect our preserve,” he said. “The zoning is so lax that the whole county is zoned for residential AR-1 and there is no protection for the conservation area. I think there ought to be a greater buffer width for conservation. But they (politicians, officials) see the tag ‘Environmentally Sensitive Developing District’ and only see ‘developing district,’ where I see ‘environmental district.’ It’s a matter of interpretation.”
CBS and other like-minded groups and individuals are interested in taking control of their own communities instead of begging county officials from other districts to stop a process they believe is bleeding the area dry of its most valuable resources.