GEORGETOWN — A split decision has floored a pitch for a hotel and restaurant near Fenwick Island.
To the delight of those opposed, a conditional use requested by Carl M. Freeman Companies seeking Sussex County Council’s approval for a multistory, 70-room hotel and restaurant failed Tuesday in a 2-2 deadlock, one vote short of the required majority.
Council President Michael Vincent supported Council Vice President John Rieley’s numerous reasons for denial, which included increased traffic congestion, more potential for floods and negative environmental impact.
Council members Mark Schaeffer and Cindy Green voted to approve the request for the complex, proposed on 9.2 acres of land zoned agricultural-residential on Del. 54, near the Delaware-Maryland border.
Councilman Douglas Hudson, as he did for a July public hearing on the matter, recused himself and left council chambers prior to the vote.
Councilman Hudson recused himself because an extended family member is an heir to the property, he said later.
Councilman Schaeffer said he read all the materials, listened to all the testimony and thoroughly reviewed public comments on this application.
“I take the constitutional rights of everyone very seriously, both those opposed and those in favor and the applicant,” he said. “I believe that the county’s comprehensive land-use plan is the way of law and should be followed. I also believe that the ordinances of the county also be followed. Based upon the record made at the public hearing, I believe this application should be approved.
“The Coastal Area is a growth (zone) designated in the plan, and retail uses are stated as appropriate in the Coastal Area of our comprehensive land-use plan,” said Councilman Schaffer, adding that the plan also encourages economic diversity to strengthen the county’s position as a “tourist destination.”
Councilwoman Green agreed, saying, “Based upon the record made during the public hearing and testimony given here today, I believe the application should be approved.”
Nancy Flacco, spokeswoman for the Southern Sussex County Community Action Group, said she was pleased.
“I am actually delighted but also surprised,” she said, representing the coalition of 31 communities and 5,500 homeowners in the area. “I would like to emphasize that we are not against development. But we are against development without proper planning with regard to public safety, environmental impact and emergency evacuation.”
Councilman Rieley said the proposed project was inappropriate for the area.
“This use is too intensive and inappropriate for the site, particularly since the site is environmentally sensitive,” he said. “The use is not a residential project but rather a commercial enterprise in the middle of a predominantly residential area.”
The proposed hotel is unlike any other commercial use nearby, he continued.
“Therefore, the entire project is incompatible. Surrounding commercial uses are small businesses on relatively small tracts of land. The size and scale of the applicant’s proposed use exceeds any other commercial use in the vicinity and is inappropriate for this location.”
Councilman Schaeffer argued that the project is desirable for general convenience and that other commercial entities, including a marina and several restaurants, are not far away.
The applicant offered entrance and road improvements, including a traffic light, to be constructed in accordance with Delaware Department of Transportation compliance, he continued. “I believe it will enhance that intersection tremendously.”
However, Councilman Rieley called the application “not essential or desirable for the general convenience and welfare of the area.”
He added, “It would be irresponsible to vote in favor of such a large-scale commercial project that will result in significantly increased traffic” on an already overly congested road.
Tuesday’s vote came more than two months after council deferred action, following a July 27 public hearing punctuated by heavy opposition.
Opponents then claimed the proposal was simply out of character, will clog evacuation routes and increase traffic issues and public safety hazards that exist along Del. 54.
Councilman Rieley referred to that strong public opposition Tuesday, noting that the county received only one letter in favor and 386 opposed, although some were duplicates.
Jeannette Akhter, another member of SSCCAG, said environmental protection and restoration is high on its list of concerns.
“This is an existential issue for us. Whatever we do with the environment or don’t do with the environment will determine the existence of not only other species but the human species,” she said. “We consider traffic issues paramount, (as well as) quality of life and safety, public safety and evacuation routes … and access to fire and emergency, all of which would have been very much poorly impacted by this particular project.”