Dear Mr. Whitehouse:
I am writing to express my concern about the tentative scheduling date of the Evans Farm conditional-use hearing for Feb. 11, 2021, at Delaware Technical Community College.
My husband, Conrad Falvello, and I have ownership of a residential single home in Bay Forest … . Our rear property line abuts a thin strip of trees behind which is Evans Farm. Evans Farm is within sight, sound and water reach of our property. Although we understand that Evans Farm will be developed, our interest is that the type of development not negatively affect our property value, quality of life and enjoyment.
A more immediate worry is the pervasiveness of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Sussex County continues to have a high rate of infection. New cases have risen sharply following the Thanksgiving weekend; that trend continues into January. Yesterday in Sussex County alone there were 183 new COVID-19 cases identified (source: the New York Times). As the Evans Farm hearing would occur in five short weeks, there can be no foreknowledge that this deadly virus will be declining to a safe level in that time for this type of venue.
Please consider the numerous people who are neighbors of Evans Farm and so have strong interest in this hearing. Neighborhoods include Bay Forest, Banks Harbor, Solitude at Whites Creek, Denton Manor, Denton Woods, Land of Pleasant Living and Bethany Bay. The demographic of ownership here is many older people at high risk for severe complications and even death from COVID-19.
I know that my husband and I cannot safely attend a Feb. 11 hearing, as the virus will not be abated at that time. Our medical providers have advised that we are high-risk.
I understand that Delaware Technical Community College is the proposed venue, with a 20 percent state-mandated occupancy limit. In Bay Forest alone, over 400 property owners signed a petition of concern about Evans Farm development. Can you guarantee that this venue will be sufficient? Can you guarantee that attendees will be safe? I argue you cannot to both.
Planning & Zoning has stated that phone calls to the hearing will be available. While proposing this alternate strategy is laudable, it is an inadequate and poor substitute for our democratic tradition of discussion and debate at a town hall. Also, there is no guarantee that communication technology gods will be benevolent. My personal experience with cell phone communication in Sussex County is that there are often long gaps in a phone call and even calls that drop.
Another limitation of the Feb. 11 date is that some property owners in adjoining neighborhoods are not in residence during winter months. Attending the hearing in person may require air or other travel, which is risky. Indeed, because they are at a distance from the neighborhood, owners will not see the required posting on the property and so will not even know this important hearing is occurring.
Although these owners, like us, are part-time residents, I would venture to speak for them to say our expectation is that Sussex County will fully recognize our rights as property owners. Too, there is our economic contribution in terms of property taxes and financial support of area businesses and employees.
As Pennsylvania residents, we also face travel restrictions by order of the governor. We are advised not to travel out of state; out-of-state travel requires quarantine for 10 days or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours, if we can obtain one. We have no way of knowing if this restriction will be repealed by Feb. 11.
This hearing is a governmental proceeding. It should be held in a way that allows the fullest participation and engagement in the hearing process. The tentative date of Feb. 11 does not accomplish this.
I am puzzled and alarmed that Sussex County officials would contemplate placing us and our neighbors in the difficult position of choosing between protecting our property interest and jeopardizing our health (and even our very lives).
For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully ask you to postpone this meeting until affected property owners can have knowledge of the proceeding and safely attend in person. Consider the very real needs of property owners when determining a hearing date for the Evans Farm property.
Christine G. Falvello
Drums, Pa., and Ocean View