GEORGETOWN — Heavy opposition is confronting a pitch from the Carl M. Freeman Companies to build a hotel and restaurant near Fenwick Island.
County Council, after several hours of testimony at a Tuesday public hearing, deferred acting on a conditional-use proposal for the complex, which opponents contend is simply out of character and will clog evacuation routes and magnify existing traffic and safety hazards along Del. 54.
“Let me emphasize that we are not against development. But rather, we are against development without consideration for public safety, emergency evacuation and environmental impacts,” said Nancy Flacco, representing the Southern Sussex County Community Action Group, a nonpartisan group of 30 communities and more than 5,500 homeowners.
“We witnessed firsthand what happened to our area when Hurricane Sandy arrived on Oct. 29, 2012. Evacuation routes were inadequate. People sat in cars for hours trying (to) get out before she arrived. Now, here we are, nine years later, with more development without fixing problems identified after Hurricane Sandy. We have more developments, more traffic and more greed by developers.”
Attorney Jim Fuqua, representing the Freeman Companies, said the project meshes with the county’s comprehensive plan and that the developer will provide 50-foot tidal wetlands buffers and bear the cost of intersection realignment and a new traffic light.
The 9.2-acre parcel is in a coastal area that is designated for growth in the comprehensive plan, including most higher-density residential development and most commercial development, Mr. Fuqua said.
Additionally, he emphasized that neither the hotel nor restaurant will be built on any wetlands. “No wetlands will be encroached or touched,” he said.
Mr. Fuqua cautioned council on what he termed misinformation in media reports. One was that the county Planning & Zoning Commission had recommended denial of the request, when in fact the commission’s July 8 vote was 2-2 on a motion for denial, and thus the motion failed to secure the required three votes.
Jamie Whitehouse, Sussex County planning director, said the county has received 386 letters in opposition to the conditional-use request, although it appeared some may have been duplicates. There was one letter in favor, he added.
While many testifying in opposition called for council to reject the developer’s request, County Councilman John Rieley said it was best to defer.
“I recognize the passion in the room and all of the comments today, but I would please ask that you understand that we have been presented with a tremendous amount of information today,” said Councilman Rieley, who represents District 5, where the parcel is located. “To give it due consideration, I am going to request that we defer the vote, even though I know it would be very satisfying to have it today. We’re going to give due consideration to everything presented.”
No time frame was given as to when council may act.
The property eyed by the Freeman Companies had been in the Cannon family for 119 years, Mr. Fuqua said.
Henry Bennett, who operates the multigenerational farm Bennett Orchards, is among those vehemently opposed to the proposal.
“My ancestors owned this property prior to the Cannon family in 1901. I love Sussex County. I don’t think we’d have been here for six generations if I didn’t. But the constant rubber-stamping of development in eastern Sussex County on behalf of this council makes it an (increasingly) hard place to love and to continue to run a business, especially an agricultural enterprise,” said Mr. Bennett.
“Agriculture is still the No. 1 business in Delaware, and it’s still alive and thriving in eastern Sussex County, despite what the comprehensive plan says. Come on out to the orchard. We have 600 bushels coming on today,” he continued. “But surrounded by sprawl, we can’t continue to farm. It doesn’t work. I think it is kind of ridiculous to have to take off from work in our busiest time of year to come to persuade the council to represent the constituents instead of furthering corporate greed. This project shouldn’t even be on the table.”
The natural beauty and treasures of Sussex County are at stake through relentless development, opponents stressed.
“I’d like to point out that your property rights end when they infringe on ours. In the course of my lifetime, there have been three road projects through our sixth-generation farm in Frankford,” said Mr. Bennett. “We need you to vote no today and start working with the taxpayers of Sussex County. It is a natural and logical decision to leave this last bit of low-lying natural beauty on Route 54, so that my children and my grandchildren can enjoy the Sussex County that I know and love.”
Council members supported Councilman Rieley’s deferral motion 4-0, with support from Cindy Green, Mark Schaeffer and Michael Vincent. Councilman Doug Hudson recused himself from the public hearing and all associated matters with the proposal.