Sussex council names builder to planning/zoning commission

SUSSEX COUNTY — Sussex County’s planning and zoning commission is at full strength with the appointment of Ocean View resident R. Bruce Mears during Tuesday’s county council meeting.

Following a state-mandated public interview, county council cast unanimous 5-0 approval in appointing Mr. Mears to a District 4 seat on the five-member commission, which is a council-appointed body that reviews and gives consideration toward subdivision applications and other land use requests.

The appointment takes effect immediately and will last through June 2020, when the current three-year term ends.

The planning and zoning commission next meets Feb. 14.

Mr. Mears had served on the county’s board of adjustment since his appointment in September 2017. He assumes the planning and zoning commission seat held previously by Douglas Hudson, who vacated the seat Jan. 8 when he was sworn-in as a county councilman following his victory in November 2018 election.

Mr. Mears, nominated by Mr. Hudson, brings to the commission decades of experience in the building business. He is the founder/owner of Bruce Mears Designer-Builder.

Long-time builder

“Bruce has been a long-time builder and designer. He’s been here almost all of his life, so he brings a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience that I believe will help the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Council immensely,” Mr. Hudson said. “Bruce knows the industry, the consumer, and the market here, and that’s good for Sussex County.”

“I want to serve because I was asked to serve. I’ve been in the building business for 34 years. I love Sussex County,” said Mr. Mears. “I have served my community through community, church, and other numerous volunteer jobs. I love the opportunity to serve.”

Mr. Mears said he views the planning and zoning commission “as the right arm of the county council to do a lot of homework for the council, review every case and provide the best possible recommendation to the council.”

“I have great knowledge of Sussex County planning and zoning from being in the building business and working with planning and zoning throughout the years,” Mr. Mears said. “By no means do I know every county code, or by no means do I know the new comp plan, but I’ll make it a quick study …” Mr. Mears, who resides in District 4, joins, R. Keller Hopkins of Bridgeville (District 2), Holly Wingate of Millville (District 5), vice chairwom an Kim Hoey Stevenson of Lewes (District 3) and chairman Robert Wheatley of Laurel (District 5) on the commission.

R. Bruce Mears

In addition to serving more than a year on the board of adjustment, Mears is active with local church and chamber of commerce boards and has been a member the Building Code Board of Adjustments and Appeals since 1996. He will resign the board of adjustment and appeals board posts with his move to the commission.

During the interview conducted by Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson, Mr. Mears said he foresees no conflicts of interest.

“I have no known conflicts. I don’t expect any because I don’t participate in the development. I build single- family houses on lots owned by the individual,” said Mr. Mears.

“But in the case of a conflict where I might know a party, I would recuse myself.”

As an appointee to the board of adjustment in 2017, Mr. Mears succeeded Norman “Bud” Rickard, who retired after 5 ½ years on the board of adjustment, a five-member quasi- judicial body that hears individual cases regarding requests for variances or special use exceptions to Sussex County Code.

Importance of agriculture

Mr. Mears said he understands the significant importance of agriculture in Sussex County.

“I grew up on a chicken farm in Millville. I support agriculture 100 percent and I realize it’s one of our No. 1 industries and needs to be supported. I rendered numerous motions on the board of adjustment in support of agriculture,” said Mr. Mears, adding he believes “in property rights for all Sussex county people and the people that are moving here. It’s that simple. Everyone has property rights.”

The nomination and appointment met challenge during public commentary prior to the interview and council vote on Mr. Hudson’s recommended appointment of Mr. Mears.

Georgetown resident Paul Reiger said there should not be an interview for the planning and zoning applicant, Mr. Mears, and it should be removed from the Jan. 29 agenda. Mr. Reiger cited state code that very clearly states that on a five-member planning commission there should be no more than three members from the same political party.

“Let’s go back to May and June of 2018. When I checked the records at the board of elections, the records showed planning members, Mr. Wheatley was a Democrat, Mr. Hopkins was a Republican, Ms. Stevenson was a Republican and Mr. Hudson was a Republican. The fifth member seat was being vacated by Mr. (Martin) Ross, who was a Democrat,” said Mr. Reiger.

“So, at the time the planning commission was at the state code as intended – three Republicans and two Democrats, which is important because the seat being vacated in June by Mr. Ross could only be replaced by a Democrat or Independent.”

“This is my concern,” Mr. Reiger continued. “Miss Wingate was a registered Republican until May 23 then changed to an Independent, which is important because again the seat she was asking or applying to was being vacated by Mr. Ross and could only be filled by a Democrat or Independent.

“I’m not convinced that if the fact was known at the county council interview in public would she have been appointed with all the effort prior to getting board appointments done according to the rules of procedure and the state codes. I’m not convinced the political change wasn’t out of convenience. So not to appoint an Independent or Democrat to fill Mr. Hudson’s vacancy would be unethical and morally wrong. Do what is right and correct it now.”

Mr. Lawson addressed the issue prior to the public interview.

“The process that we use to vet these nominees once they are brought forward follows Delaware code and county code. Within Delaware code and county code there are restrictions, including political party affiliation and residency.,” Mr. Lawson said.

“At the time of their appointment, at the time that you vote on their appointment, these candidates that stand before you meet those requirements. I know there were comments earlier today and there have been comments earlier than today about those requirements.

“We would in no means put any nominee in front of you that did not meet the letter of the law, both the county code and Delaware code.”

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