A group of citizens concerned about the impact of a proposed 200-unit apartment complex, set to be built at Railway and Old Mill roads near Ocean View, wants the County Council to delay the Feb. 18 hearing on the matter for a month or two, until they can get vaccinated against the coronavirus and feel safe attending the hearing, even though the Council plans to meet in a large room at Delaware Technical Community College instead of the smaller Council chamber at county offices.
Tom Goglia, one of the members of Evans Farm Watch Coalition opposed to the development, wrote to County officials stating, despite a more spacious facility, “our at-risk members would be very reluctant to risk in-person attendance which is/was their intent prior to [COVID-19].”
“Our group of 400-plus includes many senior Sussex County citizens who are part of the Stage 1B vaccination eligibility program. Many are further complicated with individual health risks. The opening of Stage 1B inoculations is being overwhelmed by seniors requesting appointments. Many sites are anticipating offering appointments in late February.
“Given the shortage of vaccines, it seems likely these target dates and timelines would slip. It seems unfair, even unconscionable, that Sussex County government would force this exposure and risk upon its vulnerable senior population.
“Further, the idea that telephone or video participation makes up for in-person presentations fails. A Zoom-type format does not allow for documentary presentations, complex stormwater maps and calculations, videos, photographs, exhibits. Yet, at this time the alternative in-person hearing is at worst a fatal event for some unlucky citizen,” he wrote.
He told County officials the developer waited 10 years to renew the application for the project, and senior citizens' lives “should not be risked for the sake of expedience.”
Goglia said he never received a reply, but in response to a request from Coastal Point this week, County Administrator Todd Lawson stated in an e-mail, “The County has spent months establishing an alternative venue for its land use public hearings. We selected Delaware Tech for its location, size and ability to accommodate our technical needs and the public’s safety. Our plan follows Gov. Carney’s Emergency Declaration restrictions and has been vetted by the Delaware Division of Public Health.
“We sincerely believe that we are able to host these hearings in a setting that is safe and accessible to all.
“Alternatively, the County provides a livestream of the meeting and a teleconference line for the public to view and speak during the hearings.
“The County is aware that certain individuals have asked us to delay the public hearing for the Evans Farm application and we are sensitive to their feedback. But given the steps we have taken to mitigate the risk, coupled with the need to keep the process moving, we believe this is an equitable solution,” Lawson wrote.
“I get it,” Goglia said in response to Lawson’s comment.
“They are giving us all the language, but people just aren’t going to go. Their technical solution really isn’t as good as he said it is,” Goglia said.
“I know they say the room is big and they are following the governor’s standards for that hearing, but those were put out before the vaccine and everybody was of the consensus that we have to get back to business. Now new strains of the virus are showing up. We have a whole presentation to oppose this. We have 1,000 hours of research and we will have to be there for some time,” he said.
“I am wondering if this is their way of passing this zoning request against the will of a majority of residents who would be affected if this zoning were allowed to be changed. I am truly hoping this is not the case,” said Carole Doughtery, Goglia’s neighbor in Bay Forest.
Bay Forest has about 900 homes. Goglia said residents became aware of plans for the 48-acre parcel in December 2019.
“They are proposing to build 200 apartment units in a neighborhood that is largely two-story, individual homes. It sits in the middle of everything and it will create traffic, pollution, stormwater issues,” Goglia said.
The proposed development is 90 feet from Goglia’s home.
“It’s in my backyard but that’s not the reason I’m opposed. There are major issues associated with it. It will add 400 more cars to the area, kids going to school.
Among his concerns is that Railway and Old Mill roads — neither with shoulders — have high traffic volumes and that a 2008 DelDOT review of the project stated it would cause the roads to drop below service levels that are acceptable.
“There are a lot of bicyclists, pedestrians in that area. Railway has the same situation. Clubhouse Road there is the same situation,” he said.
“This development is highly controversial. We have seven communities that are part of the Evans Farm Watch Coalition and we are recruiting several more. We have circulated petitions. We have over 600 signatures. We have letters going in,” Goglia said.
Coalition members are also preparing to launch a website and are writing letters to local newspapers and planning town hall-type meetings via Zoom.