Cape Gazette
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More shenanigans over Highland Heights?

By Kathy Harvatt | Jun 27, 2014

For those of us who have worked hard to get the message out on the proposed Highland Heights subdivision, it was certainly gratifying to see such an outstanding turnout at last week’s public hearing. It was also inspiring to hear so many informed comments from members of the Lewes community, most of which questioned the wisdom behind approving a project that will greatly alter the character - not to mention the safety - of the lovely little town we all call home.

Yet as might be expected, there was one individual, a resident of nearby Slaughter Beach, who voiced her enthusiastic support for the project, which she extolled as a boon to our fair city. In fact, after reciting a list of its virtues (which sounded suspiciously like the same list the developers themselves keep touting), she expressed her avid desire to “buy a lot” there.

Now wait a minute. A lot? We have been under the impression that the proposed development package included houses - and very expensive ones. So why was she talking about buying a lot and not a house? Maybe it was a slip-up on her part. But maybe that is actually the plan.

Just think about the healthy profit these developers would make by simply selling lots without encumbering the additional and enormous investment required to build what would essentially be “spec” houses. After all, they would only have to unload a few of them to cover the cost of bulldozing trees, adding fill, constructing a couple of roads and storm ponds, and landscaping a bit for curb appeal.

It would also explain why the developers were noticeably non-committal when the tax ditch issue was raised by one Lewes citizen after another, including its manager, who knows more than anyone about its dire condition.

I believe we would all agree that these developers - rather than us taxpayers - should be willing to pony up a significant sum to ensure that this sorely inadequate ditch (which defines the border of the property in question) is ready to handle the onslaught of stormwater after all of those water-sucking trees are blithely removed.

But they seemed to think that the state and/or the city would be more than happy to kick in the minimum $650,000 it would take to remedy the problem. And they were quick to saddle the 34 Highland Heights homeowners (who are yet to be determined) with the continued cost of maintenance that would undoubtedly ensue at the back end of this ill-conceived development scheme.

Of course, none of us is likely to know what’s really going on, given the incredible lack of transparency in the process itself. While the developers were given unlimited time to offer their slick presentations and the planning commission members, the same leeway to pose their questions (however lacking in substance they might have been), the public had neither of those options. Instead, we were granted five minutes apiece to voice our long list of concerns - and were admonished not to be repetitive.

On top of that, we were not allowed to ask our own questions, and prohibited from showing any outward sign of support or discontent during the proceedings. We taxpaying citizens are also precluded from having ex parte conversations with commission members, which would help inform their decisions on our behalf.

Even more troubling, the newest commission member - a knowledgeable man who has spent many months studying this plan from all angles - was seemingly forced to recuse himself from the discussion - a move that succeeded in neutralizing his expertise, as well as excluding his vote.

If we are to keep our beautiful little city vibrant and viable, we need to cut the shenanigans and get down to the serious business of planning for the future.

That will mean getting behind a well-researched and unambiguous comprehensive plan, while also insisting that our municipal representatives just say no to “fly by night” developers who are interested only in their profit margins and more than happy to leave the rest of us to absorb the inevitable losses. After all, this is the United States of America, where individual property ownership never has and never will automatically trump the collective good of its citizens.

Kathy Harvatt
Lewes

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