The Sussex County Council this week voted to deny a change of zone application for a 114.4-acre parcel of land near Rehoboth Beach from AR-1 to CR-1, for the second time.
The application was filed by T.D. Rehoboth, originally for a proposed 850,000-square-foot shopping center along Route 1.
At last month’s public hearing, the developer’s attorney, Jim Fuqua, stated the new plan would decrease the size of the shopping center to 312,000-square-feet, along with a residential development.
The council had previously denied the application in 2016, but under an order by the Chancery Court, the council held another public hearing on the application while keeping the record of previous hearings intact.
The council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to deny the application for a second time, after holding a new public hearing last month.
“It’s not about a proposed mall or their financial feasibility,” said Councilman I.G. Burton, who was not on the council, but on the Planning & Zoning Commission when the application was first denied. “It’s solely a land-use decision. Is a CR-1 zoning of 114 acres appropriate today in this location?”
While the application was recommended to council for approval by the Planning & Zoning Commission in 2016, Burton voted against it.
At the May 1 meeting, Burton said there is nothing comparable in Sussex County to the proposed scale of the project, and the application “clearly shows the importance of well thought-out land planning.”
“Things are changing in Sussex County, and things are not ever going to be as I remember them or want them to be… The existing AR-1 zoning is the most appropriate zoning classification for this property at this time, given the location of the property and its surroundings,” said Burton in voting to deny the application.
Councilman George Cole also voted against the application, citing the same reasons for denial as those listed by Burton.
“Obviously, the size and the scale — there’s nothing to compare with this anywhere in Sussex County, or at least on the eastern side of Sussex County,” Cole said. “I believe there’s no similar commercial activity in this area that would be of this size also.”
Council President Michael Vincent, who made the deciding vote, noting the proposed depth of 2,800 feet of commercial space, compared to the county’s historical 600 feet, made it difficult for him.
“I really do think commercial should be on 13, 113 and Route 1,” said Vincent, adding that he agreed with Burton’s reasons for denial. “I do think there’s a need for commercial property in the right location in this county, and maybe someplace on Route 1 could be the right place for that. But 2,800 feet deep, 114 acres is a large piece of land, and once you change that to CR-1, it’s changed forever. You can’t take it back.”
Vincent said testimony related to failing shopping centers elsewhere did not impact his decision.
“I don’t think the decision of county government, or any government, is to tell somebody who wants to invest their money that they can’t do that. It’s their money they’re spending… We need to be respectful of that.”
Councilman Rob Arlett again voted in favor of the application, noting that his decision was “not personal — it’s based on the record.”
“This site is an appropriate location for a CR-1 commercial zoning. I think I was quoted many times in the paper, ‘that if you can’t build something of this size on a national highway, then where can you?’ And I still believe that today…
“This is not appropriate for all places in our county. It’s not. Is it appropriate along the lines of a major national highway? I would say yes.”
Arlett said the County needs to be more open to commercial growth.
“We cannot keep saying ‘no’ and keep saying ‘no’ to various things. We have to be visionaries, as our predecessors were, because otherwise we’ll be constantly reacting… Here’s an option to actually plan for our future.”
Councilman Sam Wilson also voted in favor of the application, citing property rights.
By Maria Counts