County considers three local projects

Sussex County Council members approved two local entrepreneurs and a developer at a Baltimore Hundred-heavy council meeting, Jan. 10.

They granted conditional-use requests for Timothy and Vickie O’Hare, for a wood shop, and Ed Chiasson, for a gift shop.

The O’Hares were basically seeking flexibility to hire an employee — as Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Director Lawrence Lank pointed out, they could have otherwise applied for a “home occupation” type business.

Their application cleared the county in short order — but it was Chiasson’s second try. At council’s recommendation, he’d returned seeking the conditional use, rather than his initial request for a change of zone to Commercial (C-1) or Neighborhood Business (B-1).

Council has increasingly favored the conditional-use route, because it gives them another look if the approved owners later sell and the commercial use changes. With a rezoning, the approved owners may follow council’s recommendations to the letter, or they may sell to someone else who does something totally different with the property. Council can’t impose conditions on subsequent owners — though they do have to comply with the P&Z’s technical requirements at site-plan review.

With the more limited conditional-use application, Chiasson’s nautical-themed gift shop received the green light this time around.

And finally, developers for the big Bayville Shores development received approval for another 10 residential units, to replace an “underutilized” mini-storage facility.

Developer Coleman Bunting said they’d originally expected more residents to rent the storage units (and the mini-storage was in fact deed-restricted so that only the residents could rent there).

But they’d never rented more than a handful, he said. Delivering the P&Z’s recommendations, Lank reported Commission Member Benjamin Gordy’s comment that the commercial use had become something of an eyesore, and that the new residential units would prove of greater asset to the community.

“We brought this before the condominium association, told everyone what we intend to do, and as you can see, there’s no opposition tonight,” Bunting noted. (In fact, attendance could have been counted on the index finger of one hand at that point.)

Council Member Dale Dukes conferred with County Attorney James Griffin regarding a possible conflict of interest but eventually decided none existed. Bunting had purchased from Dukes Lumber in the past, he advised — but for a small project in Seaford. He suggested Bunting probably had closer relationships with lumber companies on the east side of the county. Council Member George Cole asked if Bunting had an account with Dukes Lumber, but “once you have an account, you always have an account,” Dukes countered.

He would vote, making it a 5-0 approval. Bunting seemed mildly surprised to have received the aye vote from Cole.

In other business, County Administrator Robert Stickels introduced Delaware Ducks Unlimited’s William Walter, who was petitioning for money to support the organization’s annual Safety & Conservation Day.

The event featured duck-stamp judging, archery, decoy carving, retriever and bird-dog demonstrations, wood-duck nesting-box building, air-rifle and clay-target shooting, and gun and boat safety last year, with invited guests from Delaware and Maryland state police, Delaware Forestry and the Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem trailer.

Walter said that in 2005 they’d set the world record for the largest children’s event ever held, despite rainy weather – 3,800 kids pre-registered, and another 240 just showed up at the door.

Council contributed $2,500 again this year.

Griffin revisited the question of whether council members could ask questions about draft ordinance after introduction, but before the public hearing, and delivered his opinion.

He suggested council members could talk with colleagues about the ordinances before the actual introduction, and then discuss them prior to introduction. But after introduction, he recommended they hold discussion until the public hearing.

Cole said he’d prefer to “get the kinks ironed out” before public hearings. He also suggested this guideline left open the possibility that council members who might want to bypass discussion could “try to get something in quick.”

“I don’t believe that happens here,” Griffin answered.

Cole said he didn’t believe Griffin’s opinion had settled the matter, but Council President Lynn Rogers suggested it was probably a situation where they’d just have to agree to disagree.

Finally, council wrangled over an ordinance giving County Sheriff Robert Reed some new revenue generators.

Stickels said the packet would bring in an additional $20,000 to $25,000 a year, primarily from the sheriff department’s new ability to charge customers for mileage.

Dukes contested Reed’s blanket authorization to dispatch any number of deputies to sheriff’s sales, now that the department will bill clients $35 per hour per deputy for that service. “Maybe we need to put a limit on that, and not leave it open-ended,” Dukes said.

Reed said there were already checks and balances in place. He had to be able to justify the expense of conducting the sheriff’s sale to the clients’ attorneys, Reed pointed out, and couldn’t bill for anything he couldn’t justify.

“I don’t have a problem with letting him run his own department,” Cole said. “If there’s a complaint, it comes back on his shoulders and he has to justify it. We can’t try to micromanage everything.”

There’d never been a complaint, he said — but the county had never charged $35 an hour before, either, Dukes countered. Council added the amendment 4-1 over Cole’s objection, giving Reed leeway with up to two deputies. He’ll need Stickels’ approval to dispatch more than two, for the larger sheriff’s sales.

Council unanimously approved the ordinance, as amended.

Fees associated with executing a levy will basically double, from $30 to $75, and there’s a new fee associated with sending levy sheets via fax — $20 for the cover sheet plus $2 for every additional page.

There will be an additional $50 fee associated with sheriff’s sales, on top of the standard 3 percent “commission” on the sale.

The department will bill mileage based on the federal rate. As Stickels pointed out, that rate had reached 48 cents a mile when gas prices peaked.

He said the government had considered cutting the rate during the recent dip, but now that gas prices were climbing again, he said they might abandon that adjustment.