Letter to the Editor: Here’s why Sussex P&Z should not eliminate phone-in comments


Editor’s note: The writer read the following during the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting June 8, but due to the 3-minute limitation, the public comment was slightly shortened.

The Planning & Zoning Commission decided on May 26 to eliminate public comments made on the phone. The reason given was that the callers were often hard to understand.

However, I have to say that the same is true sometimes when the commissioners speak.

When the commission was discussing this matter, I could clearly hear Ms. Kim Hoey Stevenson and Ms. Holly Wingate speaking for working moms, but others were not understandable, and I wasn’t sure of the commission’s decision until Jamie Whitehouse told the County Council at the council meeting on June 6.

I agree that some audio problems exist, often due to Wi-Fi or mobile network deficiencies or the caller having more than one audio device turned on when speaking. Another problem is that, while we speak on the phone, we cannot hear what the commissioners say to interrupt or spontaneously answer the caller’s questions. These should all be fixable, I believe.

Calling in became an accepted mode of making comments during the pandemic, but the reasons to keep it outweigh the reasons to remove it.

Since I often call in, I’d like to mention why some of us call instead of coming to Georgetown:

Traffic woes

Sussex County is notorious for bad road/driving conditions; the roads are clogged year-round due to the tourist season or road construction. Traffic crashes, including fatalities, are rising. Isn’t it a good thing that many people don’t want to be out and about, adding to the traffic mess?

Seniors with driving/mobility issues

With slower reaction times, reduced peripheral vision and glare issues, many seniors do not feel comfortable driving to Georgetown, 15 or even 30 miles one way. Driving in the dark, against the sun, during rush hour or in inclement weather is something we strive to reduce. Finding parking spots close enough to walk to the building is another matter.

Conflicting schedules

There are schedule conflicts with work, other meetings, health or family obligations, or travels.

On Dec. 22, 2016, the P&Z Commission approved the Middle Creek Preserve subdivision (2016-1, formerly known as The Estates at Middle Creek) with only two commissioners voting in person and one commissioner voting on the phone. That’s how this subdivision got three votes to be approved, three days before Christmas!

If a commissioner was allowed to vote by phone to decide on a 314-unit subdivision, why shouldn’t the public be allowed to comment on the phone?

Unplanned public comments

This last one is yet the biggest reason I call in to make comments: Sometimes, the applicant’s presentation or other commenters at the hearing shed light on something, and I call in response. Isn’t this the same reason the commission often defers the vote?

If we are watching it at home or work, we cannot drive to make a comment, hoping that the public hearing is not over by the time we get there. And the public is not paid for their time and fuel to drive there every other week, just in case they would have to make comments.

For this reason, if phone-in comments are not allowed, the public record must be left open for at least seven days after the public hearing ends.

By the way, I appreciate you for showing up every other week and driving around the county to look at the numerous sites proposed in the land use applications.

Eul Lee


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