Cape Gazette

Sussex not following proper zoning procedure

By Evan M. Bush | Jul 31, 2014

The Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Sussex County Council have held hearings on Alex Pires's plan to use the Baker Farm for country music festivals in August. These festivals will be held during the height of the tourist season, bringing into Sussex County over 25,000 people straining our resources.

These hearings were held without Alex Pires having submitted the required documents. Both the planning and zoning commission and the Sussex County Council have closed the record for public comment. From now on only Alex Pires's voice will be heard.

Joan Deaver has on her website an excellent paper describing the flaws in the zoning process Already four of the flaws mentioned have occurred. These are:

The applicant submitted details at the Zoning and Planning hearing which did not give opponents adequate time to examine and comment on them.

A hearing was held and the record closed before the applicant had submitted a preliminary site plan in accordance with the zoning code. The site plan was so poor that Alex Pires received a lecture from one of the commissioners. After the public hearing, the planning and zoning commissioners were uncertain as to how to handle the application. One said that we have a record but it is the wrong record They deferred action.

The county council heard the application before the planning and zoning commission had made its recommendations.

The record has been closed, thus not allowing the public to comment on anything Alex Pires says from now on.

This is bad government and certainly not what happened in the Love Creek Resort and Campground situation. There the applicant came into the first zoning meeting with a detailed plan after having its own public meeting and clearing its plans with the state in January 2013. The planning and zoning commission did not close the record at that time, but left the record open until 15 days after the comments of DelDOT had been received. DelDOT took about six months to study the traffic impact and the record closed in July.

Let the planning and zoning commission and Sussex County Council know that:

The planning and zoning record should be reopened until at least 15 days after the planning and zoning commission has received a preliminary site plan that meets the letter and spirit of the zoning code.

The Sussex County Council record should be reopened until at least 15 days after the planning and zoning commission have made their recommendations.

Evan M. Bush

Comments (2)
Posted by: Phoebe H Cottingham | Aug 01, 2014 08:48

Mr. Bush is bringing up an issue of increasing importance:  public input to our zoning commission and county council is very constrained, to just vague conceptual plans that lack serious backup.  The council approves these vague plans and then proceeds without citizen input to work out details on an ad hoc basis with organizers of events. This leads to major impacts on county that could have been taken into account BEFORE giving approval, by holding multiple hearings or no hearings until full disclosure of plans are available to the public.

Posted by: Phoebe H Cottingham | Aug 03, 2014 12:44

Thank you Joan Deaver for agreeing there is inadequate notice to the public when the county council or commission is holding a hearing on applications for new or changed uses of land in Sussex County.  The problem is not only the days required to announce forthcoming public hearings and collection of comments.  It is the differing standards being applied for what an application must contain. Some require far more justification and attention to meeting current regulations on land use before any approval. Others are allowed to slip through without the details, implicitly assuming that there are no potential risks of harm and hazard to people, other property owners, and our environment.

Two pending land use applications illustrate this problem.  At the July 24th commission meeting, a hearing was held on the Showfield community plan near Lewes, with a 900 page plus proposal that allowed detailed examination and questioning.  Contrast the Showfield application with that offered up at the July 10th commission public hearing on the Alex Pires application (Cool Spring, LLC/Highway One) for music and summer campground activities on Baker farmland off Hollyville Road. Many people came to complain that the skimpy six-page proposal handout (3 Google maps plus 3 pages of bullet points) lacked the details needed by the Commission to assess the proposed use.  Many people pointed out that what was missing from the application were details about what would happen to the farmland in converting it to a very large vacation venue and handling the people and festivities.  The public and the county officials were asked to believe that some 6,000 RVs, 2,000 cars, some 25,000 people, extensive stages and equipment for entertainments, could just slide in and out without disturbing the local and surrounding environment.

So the Council proceeded to hold a hearing (July 22nd) on Pires's application while waiting to receive a recommendation from the Commission.  Many spoke out again about the likely negative impacts on local residents, congested roads, emergency medical equipment access, noise, and the environment.  The Council asked DelDot to conduct a one week assessment and present it at their July 29th meeting. The DelDot presentation was breathtaking.  It pointed out how inadequate the applicant's plans were.  Traffic problems would be severe within the 500 acre site and on local roads as well as the main roads, routes 113, 404, 24, and 1. Several councilmen expressed new awareness of the realities that the application had covered over.

Will the Commission or the Council again initiate a public agency review, this time by DENREC, and hold new hearings?   Public concerns expressed about sanitation and sewage, potable water, drainage, runoff, wildlife such as Bald Eagles, and power sources need to be followed up on.  If this application is going to take up more time of our public officials, the county authorities must request an assessment of the environmental risks of turning 500 acres of farmland into an entertainment and campground venue capable of housing 20-25,000 people.  Note that the Showfield community application has detailed maps and descriptions that allow the public, the Commission and the Council to work from in their questioning. The Showfield application is so markedly different from the music-RV campground application that it forces the question:  why the disparity in application content and allowing an insufficient application to move further in a review process?

The responsibility of the county ---to protect all land owners and people in their daily pursuits from harm or hazards, whether as visitors or residents -- is being ignored by not asking for a fully developed proposal.  Applicants should not be able to receive conditional use  "concept" approval.  They should submit their own detailed plan that then goes to the government agencies such as DelDot and DENREC to approve up front or decline or point out deficiencies.  Approving conditional use applications without such prior review pushes these key deliberations into a "planning process" and co-opts the agencies. Their primary role in the land use permit process is to advise on regulations and decide if applicants meet the regulations. The applicant has to present the details, assurances that all concerns are addressed in the application before consideration.  Sussex officials then have a basis for review with other government agencies and most of all, the public.

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