Commentary: Convenience store, fueling station must not be allowed to operate

Sussex County’s zoning/conditional use (CU) laws are about to be tested as early as Dec. 17.

In 2018, a zoning change (from AR-1 to C-3 Heavy Commercial) application for a convenience store with fueling station was denied by Sussex Council. In 2019, essentially the same application, but this time with more details, was resubmitted for a Conditional Use (CU 2176) permit — to build a 7-Eleven fueling (16 gas and four diesel) station with a convenience store and operate it 24 hour/365 days – in AR-1 zone, in Angola area of Sussex County. P&Z has unanimously recommended approval and CU 2176 is now in the hands of Sussex Council.

Since the Sept 17 council hearing of this case, I have been mulling over how the public hearings of two back-to-back CU cases during the same meeting went vastly different and why CU 2176 is a historic departure from the norm of CUs in Sussex.

A room-full of concerned residents waiting for chances to speak against CU 2176 had to sit through an earlier CU case filed by a man from Georgetown. After many questions and answers between the council and the applicant, the CU permit was granted to this small auto repair/sales business in a residential area with several conditions, similar to ones imposed on other CU permits, as listed in the council’s meeting minutes of 9/17/2019, page 14 (only five of 14 conditions are listed below):

A. No more than four cars for sale or under repair on the property at a time;

B. One unlighted sign, not to exceed 16 square feet per side;

I. To retain its residential appearance;

L. Limited hours of operation;

M. Any violation of these conditions may be grounds for termination of this Conditional Use.

I wondered: Does the above condition “M” mean, in the event of any violation, the CU permit may be revoked and the site must be reverted back to what it was before this permit was granted? Will 7-Eleven fueling station be given the same condition? Will 7-Eleven be restricted to operate only certain hours each weekdays and not on Sundays? How about the signage and residential appearance?

Next was the hearing for CU 2176 — a large fueling station with 7-Eleven that is mandated by this Japanese-owned franchiser to run 24/365 with glaring signs all night long in AR-1 zone, and with a DelDOT-recommended concrete barrier in the middle of Rt 24 to prevent motorists from making a left turn from westbound Rt 24. None of the CU restrictions that were discussed and mandated for the earlier case ever came up during the CU 2176 public hearings by P&Z and the County Council! Why not?

After one-and-half hours of public comments that such gas station and store is not needed nor wanted for many solid reasons, the Council decided to defer the vote until they inquire and receive responses from DelDOT and DNREC, and then give the public only five calendar days to comment on those agency responses in writing.

The burden of understanding these agency responses to write in comments is now on the public — mostly seniors who are non-experts in any technical and legal aspects touching this case.

Furthermore, the public is not paid for any of their work digging up facts, printing documents, traveling to various meetings, paying for extra phone (data) usage, setting up a website, buying bumper stickers, arranging meetings, etc. All unnecessary expenses for the retirees on fixed incomes! If the residents decide to take the case to the court, they now have to come up with legal expenses — all because they recognized something is hugely amiss in the county’s land use permit procedures and could not bear to watch it continue.

I have searched many CU cases in AR-1, approved or denied, in Sussex County and could not find any fueling station, nor any business that operates all hours throughout the year or that may cause such travel concerns that a concrete barrier has to be installed in the middle of the road.

7-Eleven may bring some revenue to Sussex County and enrich a few individuals, but what would be the cost to the entire area and all of Sussex? Obliterated zoning laws and the mockery from more unscrupulous CU cases that will flood Sussex County?

If this outlandishly twisted CU 2176 is approved and sets the historic precedent of CU, it will be the beginning of a never-ending nightmare for the whole Sussex County.

More facts can be found at www.cu2176.com.

Eul Lee is a resident of the Angola area of Lewes.

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