Cape Gazette
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Politics

What kind of community do you want to live in?

By Don Flood | May 29, 2012

Imagine having a say in how the Cape Region:

• Protects its natural resources
• Prepares for growth
• Promotes a vibrant economy
• Encourages livable communities.

Imagine having the tools to make intelligent, informed decisions about land-use planning.

Now quit imagining and get involved with the Cape Henlopen Regional Project, which has started under the auspices of the University of Delaware.

On a recent Thursday evening kickoff event, about 45 area residents gathered at the university’s Virden Center in Lewes, repeatedly clicking TV remote control-like devices at a large screen.

It might have looked like people battling about whether to watch “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars,” but it was the start of a public discussion that, hopefully, will lead to a vision of how local residents want our region to look in 2030 and beyond.

The workshop was led by Ed Lewandowski, the former executive director of Center for the Inland Bays. He now serves as coastal communities development specialist with the University of Delaware Sea Grant Program. Also representing the university that evening were Jim Falk, Bill McGowan and Carol Bason, who discussed planning and its history in our region.

“Tonight’s workshop is a conversation,” Lewandowski said.

The remote controls, oddly enough, were part of the conversation. The screen displayed various features of our region and we were asked to choose which ones were most important to us.

Those priorities could be anything from natural areas to retail shopping. There were no wrong answers. The idea is to get all the stakeholders - residents, landowners, business people, developers, municipalities - together to talk about what kind of community we’d like to live in and then produce a master plan to guide our region’s growth.

(That growth is coming, by the way. Population projections estimate the Cape Region will grow 41 percent by 2030.)

In other words, it’s not us vs. them. It’s everybody working together.

What’s extraordinary about this project are the tools and services it provides. The project’s website not only talks about what master planning is, it allows visitors to look at and evaluate various growth scenarios. Project members will even come to your home, bringing tabletop technology that, Lewandowski said, “will allow you the opportunity to create your own scenarios.”

In other words, it will allow you to choose where you think housing, employment centers and open spaces should go.

Even more amazing, it will provide immediate information about how your changes would affect everything from traffic to tax revenue.

“Real data can be provided to you based on the changes you are making on the landscape,” Lewandowski said.

Barbara Vaughan, who recently stepped down from Lewes City Council, attended the meeting. She has witnessed the technology in action and said, “It is fabulous.

“It took a long time for my head to get around the fact that we weren’t trying to say what this region should look like,” said Vaughan. “We were trying to envision possibilities, connections, different scenarios.”

The project is beginning with a stretch of coastal Delaware that includes Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Henlopen Acres, Lewes and the surrounding unincorporated area.

Lewandowski emphasized that the university doesn’t have the authority to implement any plan. “We are demonstrating a process,” he said. “We are demonstrating tools and we are asking you how you might want to adopt this to create an area in which you want to live. It’s that simple.”

And that hard. If nothing else, the planning project offers hope. Even the most intractable problems might yield to creative solutions.

Take Route 1. Driving from Rehoboth to Lewes in the 70s, I passed mostly open space. Today it’s a mess, unattractive and gridlocked. During the summer, residents of Lewes and Rehoboth avoid driving to the other town, despite the outstanding restaurants and attractions in both. But even Route 1 could be improved, McGowan indicated, though it’s not going to be easy. “Route 1 is going to take some long-term thinking and some  real money to get that thing handled,” he said, “but there are ways you can do it.”

How? Get involved and start finding out.

Public invited to June 7 workshop
A second Cape Regional Plan Public Workshop will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, June 7, at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center. For more information about the meeting or to arrange for project members to come to your home to discuss planning call 302-645-4253. The website address is www.capehenlopenregionalplan.org.

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