by Terry Rogers
Several weeks ago, Christian and Constance Brauer along with several of their neighbors received notices tucked in their doors telling them that there were plans to build a concrete plant in their neighborhood. The plant would be constructed at the corner of Old State Road and Fleatown Road in an area that is currently residential and agricultural.
“We reached out to Robert Witsil, an attorney, to find out what rights we had regarding this plant being built in our backyard,” Brauer explained. “What we learned is that this parcel of land is zoned commercial even though all the land surrounding it is agricultural or residential.” In an effort to educate more homeowners in the area, Witsil and Brauer held a public meeting at the Ellendale Community Center on Wednesday, July 17th.
Witsil, who represented Sussex County as their attorney for four years, told the group that they were facing a difficult task. According to Witsil, 6 of the 14.48 acres were zoned heavy industrial and the zoning was put in place around 1986. At that time, it was owned by the Breeding family who sold many of the residential lots surrounding the parcel. The Breeding’s used the lot to store agricultural equipment.
“At some point, someone probably found out that they were storing heavy equipment there and told them they had to get it rezoned,” Witsil said. “In 1986, they were granted what we call “spot zoning” and it has remained unchallenged all these years.”
On June 16, 2019, the Breeding’s sold the land to Trinity Commercial Holdings, LLC. This company has entered into a leasing agreement with Chaney Holdings who filed a site plan with Sussex County on June 24, 2019 to build silos of up to 72 feet in height, a concrete mixing and portioning plant of 60-by-140 feet and a proposed one-story garage. Witsil estimates this will mean between 40 and 65 large trucks each day at an intersection that has already been deemed hazardous.
“If you read the Code on this type of zoning, it appears that this type of use is permitted under heavy industrial,” Witsil explained. “The company believes that all they have to do is file a site plan. If so, this would mean the site plan will go before the Planning and Zoning with no need for a public hearing. That would mean the residents who live nearby would have no input into this project. However, if you read the code, you will see that one section has a list of potentially hazardous uses. Cement, lime, as well as sand, gravel, grinding, crushing and processing, are all listed as potentially hazardous uses which automatically require a hearing before the Board of Adjustments in the interest of public safety.”
Witsil believes that the potential hazards of such a plant requires the project to undergo a PLUS Review by the Office of State Planning with DNREC and DelDOT comments. James Fuqua, an attorney for Chaney Enterprises, replied to Witsil’s letter to the county indicating that his opinion was that there was no need for a hearing as the concrete plant is considered permitted use of land that is zoned heavy industrial. It was his belief that Witsil was “misplaced” in his position that a concrete plant is considered potentially hazardous.
Residents near the proposed plant are concerned about safety with such a high number of large trucks traveling in and out of their neighborhood.
“We all have well water,” Brauer said. “They are talking about water retention ponds and other features that may have an adverse effect on the water we use each day. We purchased our lot from the Breeding’s and we were never told that that parcel of land was zoned heavy industrial or that something like this could be built there. Why was this not disclosed to us and why were six acres of land zoned for heavy industrial use when it is surrounded by fields and homes?”
A petition is being circulated to present to Sussex County Planning and Zoning, demanding that a public hearing be held with testimony from experts regarding the hazards of concrete production as well as its impact on well water in the surrounding areas. Witsil also suggested that residents reach out to legislators at the state level along with members of the Ellendale Town Council who also may be impacted by this proposed use.
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