Archive for August, 2010

Councilman throws DART under the bus

August 30, 2010

It appears a bus rider at this stop along Route 9 near Harbeson took care of the seating arrangements.

Sussex County Councilman George Cole went off on DART during a recent discussion of transportation projects in the county. He was extremely critical of the way the state’s bus system is run. “They need help,” he said. He said bus stops are poorly identified, put in odd places and there is nowhere for people to sit when they are waiting. He said some of the stops actually put those waiting for buses in unsafe situations.

“And I don’t see anyone on the buses,” he said.

That might be going a bit far. Although the buses are not used as a source for mass transit as they are in big cities, officials say rider ship this year is way up. The buses are important to those who rely on them.

I do agree with Cole about the placement of some of the stops. He was questioning a stop at the end of Fred Hudson Road near Bethany Beach, which is a little off the beaten path. “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

I see a few, like one at the intersection of Fisher Road and Route 9, that are also a little out of the way (see the photo).

Let’s face it, people in this area are used to driving cars everywhere. The majority of those who use the buses are foreign students who don’t have cars, those who need to get to work without any other transportation and those who have lost their licenses.

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Lewes lighthouses

August 20, 2010

Breakwater and Harbor of Refuge lighthouses near Lewes

Breakwater Light off Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes.

Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse.

The facts mam, just the facts

August 19, 2010

A recent workshop meeting between Sussex County Council and the county’s board of adjustment was informative if nothing else.

The board of adjustment, which meets twice a month to settle disputes over setback violations and special-use exceptions, has come under fire recently for approving too many applications. It’s odd that the board is being questioned now because its approval rate has held steady at about 85 percent since it was formed by state law in 1973.

During the workshop, board members admitted they violate their own mandate when making many of their decisions. Variances must meet five standards, yet the majority fails to make the grade and are approved anyway. Why is this?

Over the years, the board has been given direction, either directly or by no one on council complaining, to go easy on applicants. So it has. Most decisions are based on emotion rather than the strict standards of the regulations.

That’s wrong, but many people would have made the same decisions given the same facts the board hears. One of the most violated standards is one that states the applicant cannot create the reason for a variance. What a lot of people don’t realize is the “applicant” is responsible for what the builder does.

The two county governing bodies have come up with some possible changes and updates to make the board work a little more efficiently and possibly change some of what the board rules on. Changes won’t be easy because most will need to go through the Delaware General Assembly.

Board attorney Richard Berl said it’s not fair to judge the board on statistics alone because it’s not always black and white – there is a lot of gray area during board meetings. Denials and approvals have both ended up in court on appeal. He also said if the board stuck to its guns and the five standards, most variances would be denied. He asked the council if it was willing to stand behind the decisions, take the criticism and handle the phone calls. “They’ll be knocking on your door,” he said.

In other words, it’s hard to tell someone who has built a house two feet over the setback to tear part of it down.

I’ve attended several board of adjustment meetings over the years and have seen what the board has to deal with. Many applicants are not prepared and can’t even answer basic questions. For the pleasure of being embarrassed they pay a $400 application fee. But that’s not justification for what is going on. No one is disputing the board has a tough job, but the time has come for the board to move closer to making decisions based on the standards instead of the heart.

Let them eat nothing

August 18, 2010

When more than two members of Sussex County Council gather together in the same room (except in a legal executive session), it’s the same as if they were gathered together for their weekly meeting in council chambers. That means the meeting is open to the press and public – even if they don’t want to come.

That’s a hard concept for many people to grasp. So when a special interest group or other organization schedules a meeting, luncheon or dinner with county council they can’t have council all to themselves. Accommodations have to be made for the press and public as well. That doesn’t stop some from trying either out of ignorance of the law or blatant disregard for the public’s right to know what their elected officials are up to.

The council has at least three, and probably more, of these type of functions on a regular basis with the Sussex Conservation District, the Sussex County Land Trust and the Sussex County Association of Realtors.

Over the past two years, the Realtors, or at least someone on staff, have refused to allow members of the public and press to attend the annual Sussex County Appreciation Day luncheon. This year’s event took place Tuesday, Aug. 17. Last year, I called the office and was told the luncheon was a closed event. I didn’t pursue it because I couldn’t attend anyway. But this year, I was determined to dig in my heels, read someone the Freedom of Information Act and find out exactly what was going on at this “closed” event.

I didn’t have to. Rehoboth Beach resident John Walsh asked to attend this year’s luncheon and received the same answer I did the previous year: no way. Walsh contacted county officials and a long chain of emails ensued. To make a long story short, after some intervention from Chip Guy, a former journalist who is now the county’s director of public information, and Councilwoman Joan Deaver, the luncheon went from closed to open. It appears there was a misunderstanding.

Four of us showed up as observers and were seated in the back of the room against the wall. We were told we could not partake of the buffet, even though there was enough food left to feed dozens more. Ruth Briggs King, state representative and executive vice president of the association, was kind enough to hand us all programs. The entire affair, which featured a report on county housing statistics, was over in about an hour.

I don’t totally blame the association for its action. Someone from the county should have explained to the association that county council meetings are open to the public. Perhaps they forgot.

Lewes sunsets

August 12, 2010

Small lots lead to big problems

August 11, 2010

Those who follow Sussex County government have a hard time understanding why county officials struggle so much with issues involving manufactured homes. The issues range from the practical – problems with setbacks – to the unreal – how to replace an existing shed.

There is even an issue with what to call homes. I had no problem living in a trailer back in the 1970s. Somewhere along the line, the name was upgraded to mobile home, and now even that carries a derogatory connotation. Manufactured home is the term in vogue, but eventually the word “manufactured” will have to be removed to keep everyone happy.

After years of being bashed over the head by some outspoken manufactured home park residents, the county got smart and formed an official ad-hoc committee to come up with suggested improvements in county code to alleviate some of the perceived and real problems.

The committee met three times and, thanks to allowing input from those in the audience, hit all the hot buttons. Unfortunately, the recommendations for possible changes don’t reflect all of the discussions and don’t go far enough – at least that’s what some are saying.

I doubt anyone has a clue just how many people live in manufactured homes. In the Long Neck area alone, there are tens of thousands in parks all over the place. How many of those are dissatisfied with their living conditions? It’s a safe bet that the vast majority could care less about lot coverage and setbacks, and they don’t complain about the monthly rent.

So why the fuss?  Some residents, particularly those living in older parks, do have legitimate concerns that the county has overlooked for years. The rules and regulations were written without much concern for parks with smaller lots. Of course, no one could have predicted that large, doublewide manufactured homes would have nearly the floor space of small stick-built homes, dwarfing the tiny lots in older parks.

The council will address some of the issues with a set of proposed new ordinances, which is a great first step. The committee may need to go back in session because more work needs to be done.