by Terry Rogers
On Tuesday, February 27, Sussex County Council denied a request from East Gate Farms to rezone 16.6 acres of land on the south side of Cedar Creek Road from agricultural to business. The property is located directly across from the new Bayhealth Sussex Campus on the east side of Route 1. Sussex County Planning and Zoning voted unanimously to approve the request in November, 2017.
“I really feel with this application, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to really plan an area that is predominantly AR-1 all around it with just the growth coming,” Councilman I.G. Burton said. “I think we should take the time to get this right. This whole area needs to be looked at for the future. I think this is a very important beginning step to a very growing area. I am very concerned about planning for future development of the Route 1 corridor between Milford and Milton and running south toward Lewes. This is one of the first changes in zone application that Sussex County has considered along Route 1 in Milford.”
Although no one spoke in opposition to the request for rezoning at the Planning Commission public hearing, many residents in the area did speak at the Sussex County public hearing on the same matter.
“There is plenty of room with what’s already next to the hospital for development,” Frank Soucek said. “It’s really unnecessary duplication.” Many residents in the area submitted emails and letters to Sussex County council asking them to deny the application as well.
Prior to the vote, during the regular public comment section of the Council meeting, Larry Trombello, who lives on Cedar Neck Road near East Gate Farms, spoke against the project.
“New development in Sussex County, both residential and commercial, needs to be thought through and planned,” Mr. Trombello said. “With foresight and planning, the integrity of the established area will not fall victim to haphazard intrusion which will diminish the quality of life. This is especially true for the area surrounding the new Bayhealth hospital. Please allow ample time for any research before any changes are made.”
Dennis Schrader, an attorney representing East Gate Farms, said that his client intended to keep any construction on the building in line with the new hospital. Because of a DelDOT drainage pond in front of the property, it would not be eligible for annexation into Milford or to access town utilities.
“That means no public water or sewer, so the building would need to be low-water usage only,” Mr. Schrader said. “That means no restaurants or convenience stores. We are looking at a doctor’s office or drug store which are both businesses that would be important with a hospital nearby.”
Councilman Burton pointed out that there were no other properties on the east side of Route 1, south of Route 30 in the Milford area with commercial zoning. In addition, much of the land between Milford and Milton is protected land in this area, including federal, state, agricultural preservation easements, conservational lands or wetlands. Councilman Burton pointed out that lands on the west side of Route 1 do not have the same issues and that is where business or commercial development would be more appropriate. Although he also voted no, Councilman Robert Arlett pointed out that with the new hospital, residents needed to be prepared for change.
“There has been a lot of input on this property,” Councilman Arlett said. “I would say that the hospital is the largest economic development property in this county’s history. That means change is coming. You can’t just say yes to one thing and then think nothing will be around it. So, I will share with you that I think change is coming and change is needed in order to support that structure. I think the cat’s been let out of the bag so to speak. But at the same time, I would concur with Councilman Burton that we have to be cautious about how we move forward with that. I would encourage an agricultural residential with a conditional use with specificity. You know what you are getting when you approve that. With B1, you don’t as they are not legally bound to build what was presented. So, I think residents need to be aware that change is coming. Therefore, although I support change and growth in that area, in this specific case because it is a zoning change rather than a conditional use, I will also vote against it.”
Council voted unanimously to deny the application. Mr. Schrader has indicated that his clients are still deciding their next step. He said they could appeal the County decision, consider a different land use or they may choose to sell the property.
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