Sussex council denies conditional use for proposed 7-Eleven

Sussex Council Chambers in the Sussex County Administration Building Tuesday morning were filled with residents opposing the conditional use application that would pave the way for a 7-Eleven convenience store with fueling stations in the Angola area. County council denied the request 4-1. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — It’s one battle won, but there will be others.

That’s the consensus of Judy Kane, Eul Lee and other Angola-area residents following Tuesday’s decision by Sussex County Council, which by a 4-1 vote went against planning and zoning commission’s recommendation for approval and in turn denied a conditional use application for a 7-Eleven convenience store along Del. 24 between Lewes and Long Neck.

“I think it is very called for. It should have been that way from the beginning,” said Ms. Lee. “So we are obviously happy that council denied it. But there is a lot of work to do. This is just the beginning of the change that is coming to Sussex County. And we are happy to be part of that.”

The 7-Eleven plan called for eight fueling stations with 16 pumps on a 3.51-acre parcel zoned AR-1.

In August, county planning and zoning commissioners by 5-0 vote supported the conditional use application and attached recommended approval to the council, which held a public hearing on the proposal at its Sept. 17 meeting.

“Planning and zoning should have never brought it this far,” said Ms. Lee. “The planning and zoning are supposed to do the ‘finding of facts,’ and those ‘finding of facts’ were never there.”

The conditional use proposal filed on behalf of KH Sussex, LLC has been simmering for nearly a year, following county council’s denial in December 2018 of a C-3 zoning request for a convenience store with fueling stations at that location.

“This was an inappropriate use of a conditional use permit, for a variety of reasons,” said Ms. Kane, who resides in Angola by the Bay. “One, it should not have allowed for a heavy commercial use. And the fact that it was denied in December of 2018 and then three months later it was suggested by somebody to come back this way. My question from day one is, ‘Who suggested it, and why?’ Why did it come back because it was already legally decided? That’s why I am concerned. Will they come back again? That’s why I am not calling this a victory in any way. This should have never happened, although I every much thank the county council for their vote today.”

County council members John Rieley, Irwin G. Burton III and Michael Vincent supported 4th District councilman Douglas Hudson and his reasons for denial.

Samuel Wilson Jr. favored approval, citing his staunch stance on property rights.

“This is a difficult application. It stirred up a lot of passions and concerns of the people that live in the area,” said Mr. Hudson. “I am aware that the applicant previously brought an application for a change of zone to C-3 for a similar project. Even though I was not a member of the council at the time of the previous application, I am aware that there were discussions that while the site may be appropriate for commercial uses, C-3 was the zoning district with permitted uses that were too intensive.”

“Although the current application is for a conditional use which can be granted with conditions and not for change of zone, the use being requested is similar to those permitted in a C-3 zone, and it’s basically the same project as the original change of zone application. Therefore, the same concerns are still present for this small tract of land at this location,” said Mr. Hudson. “Granting this conditional use will create a precedent for future commercial-type activity in the area. While there is significant residential growth in the area there are no other major businesses at that intersection, which is Rt. 24 and Angola Road. This use would be out of character and incompatible with the surrounding properties, and it does promote the orderly growth in the county.”

“The C-3 zoning would allow for manufacturing plants, auto dealerships, distribution centers, to name a few. That type of zoning in this location was out of character and was voted down,” said Mr. Burton. “This application is requesting to change an AR-1 zoning with a conditional use that currently allows for grass cutting, power washing, boat storage. So that would change it from that conditional use to a conditional use that would allow a 24/7 7-Eleven convenience store. This is a big difference.”

Mr. Burton, before giving his vote for denial, said the proposed location is in proximity to a stream that eventually flows to the Inland Bays and it is also near one of Sussex County’s largest water recharge areas.

Additionally, anticipated high traffic volume generated by the 24/7 convenience store could negate all the quality and safety improvements planned in the future by DelDOT, Mr. Burton said.

The proposed use does not promote the purposes of the AR-1 district and its regulations which seek to prevent untimely scattering of more dense, urban uses, which should be confined to areas planned for efficient extension of public services, Mr. Hudson stated.

“The existing conditional use is not the same thing as the applicant’s intended use as a high-volume convenience store with eight fueling stations and 16 pumps,” said Mr. Hudson. “Therefore, the proposed conditional use does not meet the general purpose of the zoning code by promoting orderly growth, convenience, prosperity and the welfare of the county. This is an appropriate location for less intensive, low impact uses that serve the community and neighborhood. It is not appropriate to start that trend of more intensive uses.”

Those opposed applauded council’s decision.

“It was a great decision, the fact that they (council) listened to the public and listened to the data and did their homework,” said Angola resident Dennis Quenneville. “The major sticking points were the traffic congestion and the proximity to water sources. What this also uncovered is there are some real shortcomings to DelDOT’s ability to certify and DNREC’s ability to certify. There are some real holes in their processes, that would even consider allowing a gas station next to a water supply.”