Your Town meeting set for November 4 in Fenwick

Fenwick Island Town Council Member Chris Clark and other organizers of the planned Nov. 4 Your Town follow-up meeting are hoping the second edition of the program will bring together residents, officials and interest groups from around Sussex County so a wide range of viewpoints can eventually be incorporated in the county’s next comprehensive development plan (due in 2007).

The original three-day Your Town workshop held in early September in Lewes has become a starting-off point for area residents who are concerned about the future of the county and its development.

Working with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) National Trust for Historic Preservation, organizers of the Sept. 7-9 Your Town: Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design workshop took advantage of the expertise of nationally known planners and development experts to begin formulating idea on how the county’s future can be guided toward its best possible aspirations.

With that extensive three-day workshop behind them, they are now seeking to spread the word and cast an even wider net for ideas that will help bring that future image of Sussex County into sharp focus and eventual reality.

“It’s about making the place you live a better place,” Clark explained in the week prior to that second, abbreviated edition of Your Town. He said the topics tackled in the program involve activities of everyday life: “eating, sleeping, living and breathing.”

For Clark, that goal of creating a better place to live particularly means bringing additional contributors from the western part of the county to the Nov. 4 meeting in Fenwick Island, to add their feelings and vision to that already garnered from residents of coastal Sussex.

“We’re aiming for a good mixed group from around the county,” he said, referring to both residents of different geographical areas of the county and representatives of a variety of groups with varying goals. “The more people, the better.”

That means Clark is not only inviting municipal officials from western towns but also encouraging members of the area’s Hispanic and Native American populations to attend and give their input. Just as he has invited representatives of the Center for the Inland Bays, he has also been working with the Farm Bureau to encourage farm-industry representatives to take part.

Clark’s fellow Fenwick Island Town Council Member Harry Haon has also pitched in, looking to contact officials from the homeowners associations of some of the developments in unincorporated Sussex County and invite them as well.

And Clark has been contacting the owners of some of the area’s remaining large, undeveloped parcels of land to encourage them to attend.

“Lots of groups all want the same thing for the county,” he said. “We need to work together to make our home a better place.”

Organizers of the Your Town effort in the county have been putting heavy emphasis on the program and its follow-up meetings since those days in early September, citing it as an inspiration for ordinance changes and architectural concerns in the days following the workshop and in the intervening weeks.

The planned Fenwick Island meeting was praised by Bethany Beach attendees as a good introduction to the ideas behind Your Town for those who weren’t able to attend the original Lewes workshop, and Clark himself said the Nov. 4 edition would be a “good eye-opener.”

It will also be a jumping-off point for the long-range Your Town effort, with the planned Bethany Beach follow-up meeting postponed from its original Oct. 26 date so the abbreviated program could be better retooled for a wider audience.

The Fenwick Island meeting will now be the second edition of the program in the county, with plans to focus the eventual Bethany Beach meeting on the future of the Route 26 corridor and the towns that line it, according to Bethany Beach Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead.

“The ultimate goal is to go to all 26 municipalities in the county with this one platform to push it along in a better fashion,” Clark said.

At each of the meetings, organizers are aiming not only to bring in additional input from members of the community regarding their likes and dislikes about life in Sussex County, but to begin to formulate a cohesive vision for the future.

“Our aim is to offer people a direction for where we can go with the town and county,” Clark said.

The councilman emphasized how important that kind of planning is for Sussex County, noting that the grant received for the Lewes workshop was one of only four awarded in the entire country. Clark said the need was especially great in 2005 “because the county risks liquidating its entire economic future in one generation if we’re not careful.”

The Nov. 4 meeting at Fenwick Island Town Hall will now be the first of the follow-up meetings and will show off its revamped two-hour format. Clark said organizers would review what was discussed at the three-day Lewes workshop, as well as possibly offering a clip of a speech from Delaware Chancery Court Judge William B. Chandler III.

Dagsboro native Chandler gave a speech at the 2004 edition of the Sussex County Today and Tomorrow Conference that helped established him as a leading figure in the county as regards long-range planning and development, and the Your Town appearance was similarly inspiring, according to Clark.

Presentations at the 7 p.m. meeting will be followed by a 45-minute interactive period that will mirror the interactive session held in Lewes, focusing on individuals’ likes and dislikes about how the county has developed and their desires for its future.

Clark said organizers aimed to keep the entire meeting to a two-hour time limit, with an eye toward future Your Town meetings throughout the county.