Sussex administrator deflates pitch for homeless parking lot

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County has put the brakes on a homeless advocate’s proposal to utilize several acres of county-owned property as a temporary parking lot for working, homeless people whose vehicles are their homes.

In April, Jim Martin approached county council during public commentary, asking the county to donate several acres of the property along southbound U.S. 113 and East Trap Pond Road in Georgetown. His plan would be to use the property as a temporary overnight parking lot with security for “car dwellers” for a period of six months into the fall.

“My hope is to make their home behind their steering wheel not ending up in an impound lot somewhere with additional crushing fines and fees to pay with money they do not have,” Mr. Martin said during public commentary at the June 25 county council meeting.

Jim Martin

The county leases that property for agricultural use.

Following Mr. Martin’s latest pitch that concluded with a FOIA request for the lease document, Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson provided a copy of the lease and said such an arrangement is out of the question.

“The lease in question is for farming activities with C. Magee Farms. It was exercised after an RFP (Request For Proposal) process that the county conducted last year and selected … for all the county ag lands that we have for farming operations,” Mr. Lawson said.

In April Mr. Martin said he was instructed to go to the town of Georgetown for a parking lot permit. He submitted paperwork and says he was told by the staff at Georgetown Town Hall that the property has an existing farm lease on it.

“I did ask about the lease … and called and emailed the leaseholders, Ellen and Chris Magee from Magee Farms, to ask them about the subleasing part of my plan,” Mr. Martin said.

“It’s obvious that that particular part of the property is not being farmed, and is vacant,” Mr. Martin said. “Ellen explained on the phone (June 24) to me that she doesn’t have the authority to make a decision about my proposal. I then asked if I could have a copy of their farm lease with the county so we could study the document to see if there is any way to work together. She said she doesn’t have a copy for me.”

“I have a copy of the lease,” Mr. Lawson said. “I was told that you were asking for a copy of the lease so we can avoid a FOIA exercise.

Todd Lawson

“There is no possible way that we would, the county would allow this type of activity to happen under this lease, and Miss Magee, even though she is not a party to this arraignment, the owner C. Magee Farms doesn’t have the authority to allow this subleasing activity to take place. And I wouldn’t imagine this council would agree to that, anyway. So I just want to kind of deflate this idea that this is even a remote possibility on this property at this time.”

“I am praying that we open our hearts to the invisible homeless out here. They are employed Sussex Countians who are working at their jobs. But they can’t afford current rents and there is nothing at their price point of around $800 a month,” said Mr. Martin at the council meeting.

“Out of desperation, more and more people are using their cars as affordable housing nowadays. It appears it will take years for affordable housing to actually get built where it is needed in the county. So, in the meantime I am working to provide some relief to our car dwellers.”

A week after the ruling, Mr. Martin is hoping for other options.

“I was hoping the county would offer other ideas for alternative sites that are also county-owned somewhere in the Georgetown area,” Mr. Martin said.

“I think this is a public-private partnership project with the public offering the use of public-owned land and the private sector would provide all the resources other than the land.”

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