After reading the letters to the editor in the June 25 printing of Coastal Point questioning our county public officials’ blindly approving future community and commercial developments, we wanted to share with you our thoughts on this matter.
Recently, there was a meeting with Sen. Hocker, Rep. Gray, Sussex County Planning & Zoning (“P&Z”) Office Director Whitehouse, County Council Member Rieley and members of DelDOT at the Roxanna firehouse. In the audience were representatives from 15 communities, as well as homeowner action groups from Evans Farm Watch, Sussex 2030 and Southern Sussex County Community Action Group (SSCCAG).
The purpose of the meeting was to convey our continued concerns and frustrations to the avalanche of P&Z approvals of large developments along the 54 and 20 corridors. These new developments will further exacerbate the already intolerable amount of traffic while putting additional pressure on other infrastructural services, public safety and environment. A few notable things jumped out at us as we listened:
Delaware is different than most other states in that DelDOT is not part of the land-use approval process. DelDOT is managed at the state level, whereas land-use approval lies at desk of the County P&Z or the individual town, based on where the development is to be located.
The decision to approve development requests does not require coordination with DOT, leading to a situation where developers get approval to bring more residents into Sussex without factoring issues like traffic volume. As a result, we are left with communities sprouting up everywhere with the main roads in the summer becoming our version of the Long Island Expressway — a parking lot.
Changes (or “amendments”) to a previously approved community go before the P&Z office. The office then determines if the amendment is “minor” or “major.” If the amendment is considered “minor,” there is no requirement for public disclosure/debate or County Council review.
The recent P&Z approval of the Freeman Stage expansion as a “minor” amendment is just one example cited at this meeting. This approval was granted a “minor” designation, despite the number patrons increasing by 10 times (from the originally approved 450 in 2008 to approximately 4,700) and ongoing questions on traffic impact and parking. Accordingly, there was no public notice, no opportunity for public comment and no County Council review. Even Mr. Rieley seemed surprised upon hearing this and looked at Mr. Whitehouse with raised eyebrows.
The public concerns resulting from the explosive (and unchecked) growth of new communities have been voiced for years and on a number of occasions but with no apparent actions on the part of our public officials. Their comments at the meeting about “we want to hear the concerns of the communities we serve” ring hollow given the history of inaction by these same public officials. The level of frustration and anger from the communities was palpable, and the recent County Council approval of Evans Farms demonstrates the tone deafness of some of our public officials.
Many at the meeting and comments in the letters-to-the-editor lamented of behind-the-scenes influence peddling that appears to speak louder than the voices of the county residents. If true, to then listen to public officials say they want to hear from homeowners on our concerns make their words seem even more disingenuous.
Shortly after this meeting, an attendee sent an email to the public officials noting his impressions and concerns along with a challenge for them to step up and do what is right for this county. Sadly but not surprisingly, he did not get a reply from any one of them. He sent a follow up email directly to Messrs. Hocker, Gray, Whitehouse and Rieley, asking them for a reply, and all he got was crickets. Their true colors are showing.
Assuming the incumbents do not start fulfilling their duty to the communities, we have one remaining option. As residents noted in their letters-to-the-editor, it is time all officials feel the pressure of civic discontent and face the real possibility of getting voted out in favor of new candidates who will be (1) focused on a more disciplined approach to the future of Sussex County; and (2) show more respect and empathy to the constituents they have been elected to represent.
Speak up! Fight on! Get involved! Do not accept the vacuous answers from those who we misguidedly thought would be the stewards of our future. Come election time, vote them out.
Nancy Flacco, Selbyville (Chair of SSCCAG)
Fran Lazerow, Selbyville (President, Condo Association of Mallard Lakes)
Tom Goglia, Ocean View (Evans Farm Watch)
Boe Daley, Selbyville (Sussex 2030)
David Chun, Selbyville (concerned homeowner)