Sussex County Delaware

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Sussex County Council ...

Council Denies Watson
Subdivision Appeal

By ERIC MAGILL
SC Online Publisher

GEORGETOWN -- In a decision that could lead to a revision of the county's subdivision ordinance, Sussex County Council denied an appeal by Gary Watson of the Planning & Zoning Commission's denial of his subdivision application.

The 2-2 vote at council's regular meeting on Tuesday, April 16, 2002, with Councilman Dale Dukes abstaining, rejected a motion by Councilman George Cole to reverse Planning & Zoning's denial and send it back for a new hearing.

Cole and Councilman Lynn Rogers voted for the motion, while Councilman Vance Phillips and Council President Finley B. Jones voted against it.

Watson applied for a 37-lot subdivision on 41.86 acres in an AR-1 District in Broadcreek Hundred in May 2001. Planning & Zoning recommended denial of the application in June 2001 and Watson appealed that decision to county council in August 2001. Council had deferred action on the appeal twice since then.

During Tuesday's meeting, Phillips and Cole traded barbs and accused each other of hypocrisy as they diverted from their usual positions on land use issues.

Phillips said that while he recognized that some would accuse him of hypocrisy since he has always been a big proponent of property owners' rights, that he has also always followed the laws and processes established by council in his land use decisions.

In this case, Phillips said that Planning & Zoning followed the spirit and intent of the 1997 Subdivision Ordinance and articulated four or five of the 17 reasons listed by that ordinance for denials of subdivision applications.

Cole, who normally fights subdivision applications, said in this case the applicant had followed the county's 1997 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which shows the area in question as being in a development district, and was in compliance with the density for the existing AR-1 district.

Phillips said he listened to the tapes of the 1997 meeting in which council enacted its subdivision ordinance and said that while he felt it was bad law, he was required to uphold the law, good or bad.

"I don't see how we can reverse this decision (Watson denial) without completely ignorning the law and process this body (county council) set forth," said Phillips. "If council wants to dictate subdivisions, then it's incumbent that we change the ordinance to give us that authority. But as long as Planning & Zoning has that authority, I won't over-ride their judgment."

Phillips further stated that Planning & Zoning had "obviously followed the letter and spirit of the law.".

Cole, however, said Planning & Zoning's reasons for the denial were "arbitrary".

"It's easy to pick out one of these reasons but you have to have something to back it up," said Cole. "You just can't say 'Reason No. 13'. I don't know how we can deny something that is an approved use in an AR-1 District and in a development district in the land use plan. If we think that area shouldn't be developed, then we should have changed it (land use plan), but I haven't seen any action from council in shrinking the development district there."

Cole also criticized Planning & Zoning and council for a lack of consistency in their land use decisions.

"I think it's a shame that people don't get consistent service from our Planning & Zoning Commission and council," said Cole. "I hear what we do here week after week and it's amazing when somebody's in compliance, they become the victim of a room full of people."

"What's a shame is that this ordinance was passed into law in such a vague way," said Phillips. "If you (Cole and other council members in 1997) passed this ordinance, this is what it has brought us."

The discussion then turned almost comical, with Cole stealing Phillips' usual property owner rights line and continuing to use Phillips' standard line of citing the comprehensive land use plan as the basis for land use decisions.

"People who have property have certain rights," said Cole, "and they shouldn't be taken away.

"I have respect for the law," Phillips countered, "even bad laws that you passed."

After the vote, Cole said, "This gentleman just got robbed by this decision."

Phillips then asked County Administrator Robert L. Stickels to ask the Planning & Zoning Commission to consider revising the 1997 subdivision ordinance so that situations like this don't occur in the future.

In hearing the appeal, council was able to reverse P&Z's decision for a new hearing, remand it for more information, or uphold the denial.

Watson can now file a new application or file a lawsuit against the county to try to reverse the county's decision.

Transportation Funding ...

Council voted 4-1 to direct the county budget committee to consider funding the transportation needs of various county agencies in Fiscal Year 2003 at the same level as FY2002.

County Administrator Robert L. Stickels told council that the county is $174,000 short of transportation funds requested by county human services agencies such as CHEER for FY2003.

Stickels said the State of Delaware, under the Reimbursable Transportation Program, has said it can only provide $696,239 this year, or 79.9 percent of what has been requested from county agencies.

Stickels said the county can't cover the $174,000 shortfall without increasing the general operating budget by more than 4 or 5 percent and without impacting other programs.

Council will make a final determination on the transportation funding during the budgeting process over the next two months.

Only Councilman George Cole voted against the motion, saying the county should do more to help the large numbers of senior citizens retiring to the area from the cities and suburbs.

In Other Business ...
  • Council voted 5-0 to switch its Group Hospital Benefits plan for county employees to a plan recommended by the personnel department. The new plan, by United Health Care, would increase the county's deductible from the current $50,000 to $75,000 with a cap of $4.8 million for all employees combined. The county will pay $650 per month per employee under the new plan. The new plan would save the county approximately $160,000 next year. Council also voted to continue Integra as the county's group hospital administrator, to use PCS as the county's prescription card provider, and to go with higher co-payments for office visits and prescriptions.

  • Stickels told council that the county has received a favorable audit report from the Delaware Housing Authority for Fiscal Year 2001.

  • County staff will hold a public workshop to discuss upgrading county building codes in council chambers at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23.

  • Council proclaimed the week of April 14-20, 2002, as National Public Safety Telecommunications Week to recognize the efforts of the county's dispatchers. The proclamation calls public safety dispatchers as the first and most important link in the public safety response chain. Council was told that dispatchers statewide responded to 78,594 emergency 911 calls and 109,056 non-emergency calls in 2001.

  • Council also proclaimed April 28-May 5, 2002, as Soil and Water Stewardship Week to recognize the responsibility of man to protect trees due to the many benefits trees provide. This year's theme is "The Gift of Trees".

    Stickels told council that the $1,500 approved for the Georgetown Charter School last month had not been mailed and it would not be sent following the school's closing.

  • Council approved a number of grant requests, including:
    • $1,000 for the Friends of the Delaware SPCA Sussex Chapter to expand their shelter
    • $200 for equipment for the Sussex Central High School baseball boosters
    • $350 for scholarship funding for the Laurel Alumni Scholarship Foundation Inc.
    • $600 for Charity Lodge No. 27's building expansion
    • $250 for the American Red Cross' fire relief operation for the residents of the burned-out Crestwood Gardens Apartments in Georgetown
    • $600 for expenses for the Shore Thunder Starz, a competitive cheerleading group
    • $250 for operations and expenses for the Lighthouse Christian School

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