Dissenters bash planning for growth in Cape Henlopen region

People at meeting concerned about losing property rights

Comment from Don Flood, Cape Gazette, Cape Gazette, August 28, 2012


T
he event could have been titled “Democra­cy in Action.” Or per­haps, “Democracy: In­action.”

Either way, it was an inauspi­cious evening for the University of Delaware Sustainable Coastal Community Initiative, which is designed to get a public discus­sion started about growth and land use. The idea was for state and UD planners to outline vari­ous planning scenarios for the Cape Henlopen region, which includes Lewes and Rehoboth (but not Milton). Originally, only residents of Five Points had been invited to the meeting, which was held last Tuesday in the community center. Organiz­ers expected 25-30 attendees.

Well, it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, at least twice that number showed up, many of them members of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots, who had been alerted by an email from the Positive Growth Alliance.

The email read, “Is it time to stop growth? That seems like a pretty silly question doesn’t it? … Nevertheless, there will be a fo­rum tomorrow night (Aug. 21) to discuss whether we need growth at all, at least in the Cape Henlopen region.”

But planning vs. growth isn’t just a false choice, it’s absurd.

Look at our two biggest indus­tries, tourism and agriculture.

People come here to enjoy our beaches, waterways and open spaces. If we don’t plan for growth - if we allow develop­ment to occur everywhere ­we’re likely to continue losing our natural heritage. Over time that will affect our attractiveness as a tourist destination - and as a place to live.

The same is true for agricul­ture, which needs designated ar­eas to flourish. Farms and resi­dential areas don’t mix well.

People may think they want to live out in the country, but one whiff of manure in the morning can change their minds, result­ing in friction with neighboring farmers. Too much friction and farmers start to leave, weakening one of the foundations of our economy. There’s even a devel­oping overlap between tourism and farming. Visitors, as well as locals, enjoy picking up produce at the many farmers markets.

And places, such as Lavender Fields Farm near Milton, have become destinations in them­selves. That said, project leaders are going to have to communi­cate more with the public, if master planning is to move for­ward. (They have tried. Public meetings have already been held in Lewes and Rehoboth. More will be necessary.) Last Tuesday, Ed Lewandows­ki, a development specialist with UD, had barely begun his overview before running into headwinds from people who questioned the beginning sce­narios and the master planning process itself.

One man pointedly asked, “Did you go through this process with the people who worked and struggled to buy this land?”

Another attendee, Larry Mayo, was concerned that three of the four scenarios showed green ar­eas - no residential properties ­where he now lives.

“I want to know by what au­thority someone’s going to try to move all the people that are in that area now,” he said. “Is it go­ing to be done by eminent do­main?” Lewandowski assured Mayo the scenarios were merely talking points subject to change, but that did little to allay atten­dees’ concerns.

Keith Johnson, who lives be­tween Lewes and Georgetown, asked if Sussex County Council had endorsed the master plan­ning project. “If they have not endorsed this little exercise that you’re doing right now,” he said, “you cannot take this to them and say, ‘This is what the people want,’ because the people have not been informed about what you guys were doing. You’re playing with people’s private property.”

Yes, you could say people were suspicious. Among those present was Jeff Cragg, the Re­publican candidate for governor, who has a summer home here.

He had it right when he said by email later that he had wit­nessed “a deep passion and sus­picion of the entire process by community members who value property rights.

“I really feel that much more work needs to be done to estab­lish community support and buy-in to the entire process,” he continued. “What's at stake is the legitimacy of any work prod­uct developed … I think the ef­forts of ‘the planners’ are filled with good intentions, but they need to step back from the process and get community sup­port if they expect all of the community to value their hard work and plan.”

After the opening portion of the meeting, Mayo, one of the most vocal critics at the meet­ing, was having an animated conversation with the only audi­ence member who spoke in fa­vor of planning. (He wouldn’t give me his name.) I couldn’t tell if they reached common ground, but at least they were talking and afterward they shook hands. All in all, democracy in action.

For more information about the initiative, go to the Cape Henlopen Regional Plan web­site.

Don Flood is a former newspaper editor who lives near Lewes. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Objections voiced at Planning discussion of growth, Sussex County

Cape  Gazette August 24
Photo by: Kara Nuzback Brian Hall, of Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination introduces possible scenarios for growth in the Cape Region.

Lewes — A community meeting to discuss regional planning for growth in the Cape Region turned sour when members of local political groups showed up to bash the effort.

University of Delaware Sustainable Coastal Community Initiative aims to address growth, land use and environmental impacts in Southern Delaware. At its website, capehenlopenregionalplan.org, visitors can explore different scenarios for growth and offer personal opinions and insights.

The initiative’s public participation project was designed to encourage input from residents, business owners and farmers about how they would like to see the Cape Region grow.  Representatives from University of Delaware, Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination and Center for the Inland Bays recently led a presentation for homeowners in Village of Five Points at its community center in Lewes.

Ed Lewandowski, of University of Delaware, said Five Points resident Michael South invited the team to give a private presentation to Five Points community members.  He said South handed out flyers to residents noticing the meeting.

People outside of the community also received the flyer, Lewandowski said.

Positive Growth Alliance, a conservative nonprofit group spearheaded by Millsboro resident Rich Collins, sent a notice of the Aug. 21 meeting to its supporters, encouraging them to attend the event and ask why the experts were not focused on bettering the local economy.

Several PGA supporters and 9-12 Delaware Patriots attended the meeting.  One audience member asked if the group received permission from Sussex County Council to rezone the region.

Bill McGowan, of University of Delaware, said the plans he offered were only scenarios intended for discussion.  “They are starting points,” he said.

“None of these are etched in stone,” said Brian Hall, of the Office of State Planning Coordination.  “They are subject to change.”

McGowan said the scenarios were created by a group of stakeholders in the community, including Preston Schell, John Lingo and members of League of Women Voters.

Developer Christian Hudson, who attended the meeting, asked why he had not been invited to participate in the stakeholder meeting.

McGowan said the stakeholders were already involved in the process and familiar with the initiative.

Another audience member said comprehensive planning in Delaware has pushed poor people to Western Sussex, and left no place for citizens to go to the beach free of charge.  He compared the initiative to Agenda 21, the United Nations’ plan for sustainable development. At the national level, 9-12 Patriots have been vocal in their opposition to Agenda 21 because, they say, it would eliminate private property.

Some audience members attempted to encourage the presenters, but after a 90-minute presentation rich with criticism from the audience, McGowan said there was time left only to allow those in attendance to view the four scenarios for growth projected onto separate tables in the center.

9-12 Delaware Patriots applauded its members who attended the meeting in its Aug. 22 enewsletter.  “We totally shredded the planning methodology, design, etc. that was laid out,” said one member who attended.  “Our critique lasted almost the whole evening and there was no time left for the misguided little game we were supposed to buy into like biting into a poison apple.”

Lewandowski said the meeting was meant to engage residents in the planning process.  Presenters had not intended to spend the meeting time justifying their intentions and listening to accusations of conspiracy.

“This caused our project team to doubt whether this community is capable of having a constructive discussion about planning,” a disappointed Lewandowski said.  “We don’t know how to proceed at this point in time.”