COMMENTARY: Kent County Levy Court commissioners explain vote on zoning request

Editor’s note: On Tuesday night, Kent County Levy Court commissioners, by a vote of 4-3, approved a zoning change on a 25-acre property, just south of the DE Turf sports complex near Frederica. Voting for the change were commissioners Eric Buckson, Terry Pepper, Allan Angel and James Hosfelt. Voting no were Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta and Commissioners George “Jody” Sweeney and Glen Howell.

This past Tuesday, Kent County Levy Court approved, in a 4-3 vote, to rezone a parcel of land just south of the new DE Turf facility in Frederica, from AR zoning to BG.

There was testimony provided for support of both sides to approve or deny this application. While we understand the reasons for approval suggested by the four commissioners voting “Aye”, a couple of us who voted to deny offer our reasons for that dissenting vote.

The applicant for the rezoning was a great supporter of the DE Turf facility. He often touted the economic development that would follow the DE Turf operation. In fact, this has already happened. With the first-year schedule in place for tournaments, the estimated economic impact has been updated from $18 million a year to a potential $25 million a year. This is proof of success, and new commercial construction was never a promise of that economic impact.

Rezoning the property from Agricultural/Residential (AR) to Business/General (BG) opens the door for many different types of new commercial construction. There are more than 120 different types of construction that are now available to the owner/developer, including hotels, shopping centers, restaurants, furniture stores, or office complexes. These all come with increased traffic, required connectivity to county sewer, and an impact on emergency services.

Any one of these does not require a public hearing in front of the Regional Planning Committee or the Levy Court, which could provide direction on minimizing impact on the local affected residents.

In 2008, the County Planning office completed the Comprehensive Plan that defined the direction of the county for 20 years. What it did not plan for was a facility such as DE Turf, located outside the 2008 Growth Zone.

The opportunity for economic impact from DE Turf was too great to deny, but it has put a greater burden on the area south of Frederica for intensive study and planning before we continue.

Remember the years from 2004-2006, during a different Levy Court leadership, when nearly 60,000 new residential lots were approved without thought to infrastructure planning.

Overdevelopment put a strain on roads, schools, and emergency services. The result was the development of the Adequate Public Facility Ordinances to address those needs in concurrence with new development. The DE Turf and surrounding areas now deserve the same consideration.

Our dissenting vote was a plea to slow down the development of the area until the 2018 Comprehensive Plan was complete including feedback from the public on what direction we want the County to proceed. The 2018 Comprehensive Plan will include the potential growth that accompanies the DE Turf facility, and allow our Planning Department to plan for that growth in a controllable manner.

Moving forward sets a very dangerous precedent for the future of our county, which will affect not just the residents surrounding DE Turf or of Frederica, but of all 180,000 residents who live in our county.

While we acknowledge that the development of the area is inevitable, we do not want a county that is barely able to retain its agricultural heritage, with a main thoroughfare developed end-to-end with hotels and retail shops.

We want to focus our efforts on retaining what we think is the best county on the East Coast.

“We further swear always to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware.”

Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta

Levy Court Commissioner, George “Jody” Sweeney

Levy Court Commissioner Glen Howell

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