Over the past several months, I have read articles surrounding community action groups’ efforts to address concerns around the over-development in Sussex County and what appears to be an uneven playing field in the land development approval process. I share many of those concerns and have expressed my views publicly in past letters to the editor in local papers, as well as private written communications to Messrs. Vincent and Rieley of the Sussex County Council.

But I am troubled with some of the recent comments attributable to County Council members suggesting community action groups are advocating a moratorium against all future development.

The County Council members object to a moratorium based on what it would mean to the overall economic agenda of Sussex County (i.e., preventing landowners’ rights to sell, loss of trade jobs, lower transfer tax revenue, etc.). While individuals may have expressed the need for moratoriums, I do not believe that is consistent with the position of most community groups.

Many, including those who participate in community action groups, are the beneficiary of living in newer communities and moved to Delaware for all the reasons espoused by developers. I, too, am one such person, escaping the high cost-of-living/high-headache state of New York in search of a more relaxing way of life in Delaware.

And I understand the irony of how the concerns of growth may appear to be at odds with our own personal circumstances. But, after now living here for the past several years and seeing both what is happening, and how it is happening, many “new” residents have now come to realize the rampant and unchecked development comes at a severe price which does not bode well for all of us.

That price can be measured through higher taxes that will inevitably come from decisions made today, and perhaps more significantly, the unquantifiable “price” of our deteriorating quality of life and the destructive impact to the environment. The Sussex of tomorrow will look vastly different than the Sussex of today. And, sadly, not for the better.

I understand the delicate balance of stakeholder interests in Sussex County. Those with land to sell have every right to monetize the value of their assets. Residents — both new and lifelong —have every right to expect our elected officials to govern fairly and equitably. Residents and businesses who provide construction skills must be able to earn a living. And, yes, developers have a right to build and earn a profit. Collectively, we are all equal stakeholders in the county we all live in.

It is my view the central issue facing our County Council and Planning & Zoning is the need to plan and execute land-development in a more responsible and strategic way.

We often hear from County officials (and those who are advocates for developers) that everything is done within the parameters of local laws, codes, ordinances etc. No one can legally challenge the: (1) rights of large developers to build as many high-density communities as possible; or (2) the decision-making tree used by both Planning & Zoning and County Council in their basis of approval. If there are no violations vis-à-vis the current ordinances: “Request approved.”

However, the real question to the County Council is whether the current local laws, codes and ordinances are appropriate given what is happening now. And who has control over amending the local laws, codes and ordinances? I believe it is the County Council.

The County Council, in concert with Planning & Zoning, who reports to the County Council, needs to think more strategically on how to address the needs (and rights) of all county constituents in a more balanced and fair way. A moratorium to stop development is not a “balanced” approach. But neither is the current practice of essentially granting every developer request that is presented to them.

The more sensible approach is to revisit ordinances that govern matters involving community density, home lot sizes and setbacks, parking requirements, depth of wetland buffers, “in-fill” development, traffic patterns, road networks, community services, such as medical, emergency, police/fire and the like.

How do the ordinances of Sussex compare to adjacent counties in Delaware and Maryland? Is there a sharing of best practices amongst other counties? One has to further question if our county government officials are able (or willing) to go through this critical self-analysis given — I am told — the curious ties some officials have with the land development and construction sectors in Sussex. If those conflicts of interest do exist, should these individuals serve as County stewards in the areas of land-use planning and approval?

I am not suggesting every homeowner join one of the many community action groups in our areas (although I am sure any of the groups would welcome your participation). What I am suggesting is the need for you to better understand the issues facing all of us. Follow the events and actions of our government incumbents and press them to be accountable to all stakeholders. If you are not happy with the incumbents, there is always the power of the vote.

The process for real change starts and stops with our voices and our votes to those who will represent all county stakeholders in a more balanced and thoughtful way. The sooner we start to learn of the issues and to speak up, maybe we can mitigate the long-term pain we will all have to face tomorrow.

David Chun