Mall proposal deserves careful consideration
A number of large-scale projects proposed for Delaware’s Cape Region went into hibernation when the national economy turned sour several years ago. The fact that it’s taken until now for many of these projects to resurface affirms one more time the depth of that downturn.
For some of those projects, rezonings were sought and approved, while others never made it that far. The Overbrook Towne Center shopping mall proposed for a 114-acre parcel of land along the northbound lanes of Route 1 near the Cave Neck Road intersection falls into that second category. Plans were first brought to the procedural drawing board a few years back, and developers of the proposed center have now restarted their engines and applied for a rezoning of the parcel from AR-1 (agricultural/residential) to CR-1 (commercial/residential). Developers propose an 860,000-square-foot regional shopping mall. At 300,000 more square feet than the store space of the three Tanger Outlets combined, the mall would become by far the largest shopping center in Sussex County. Developers say the project would bring 1,400 jobs and all of the accompanying economic boost brought by the shoppers.
Economic boosts are good, but should not be the end of the discussion when it comes to assessing the wisdom of major rezonings. We already have a seasonal crunch here for employers seeking to hire workers. And with the baby boomer generation reaching retirement age, many predict that finding people to take jobs left by retiring boomers will be increasingly difficult.
The burden is on the applicant to make the case for the need that it is addressed by the proposed rezoning and how the greater welfare of the community will be served.
With its Route 1 location in a rapidly developing part of Sussex, this proposal raises fewer traffic concerns than other large projects in Delaware’s Cape Region often face. Rezoning, nonetheless, would signal a major change for land zoned only for agriculture and homes. The request deserves careful consideration by the public, planning commission, and Sussex Council, which will make the final decision.