LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Sussex must take control of its traffic

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter was sent to the members of the Sussex County Council with a copy to the Planning and Zoning Commissioners. A copy was furnished to the Delaware State News for publication.

Sussex County residents and visitors are demanding that Sussex County better manage growth and its impacts, especially traffic, and it is high time for the county government to step up and do the job for which residents elected them.

County Council has the legal authority to ensure that the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, now being drafted by the Planning and Zoning Commission, contains a thorough and robust growth and traffic management plan, and it must exercise that authority.

For years, residents have been told by Sussex County officials there is nothing they can do about roads and traffic; DelDOT is responsible. That is not true. Delaware law is unequivocal in that all land use decisions, from zoning to road levels of service, are the sole responsibility of the local governing body.

The Delaware Supreme Court recently upheld a March 2016 Superior Court decision in Golf Course Assoc., LLC, v. New Castle County, that reaffirmed that the county has the authority over planning and traffic issues by clearly stating, “The court finds that state law, … as well as judicial precedent vest the county with final authority to decide whether traffic issues warrant denial of a land use permit” (emphasis added).

The Council has long known it has this authority. The Mobility Element of the 2008 Comprehensive Plan states, “Sussex County Council is responsible for all land use decisions in the unincorporated areas of the County.” That includes the levels of service (how freely traffic flows) on public roads and highway, regardless of who owns them. They simply have chosen to let someone else do it to the detriment of residents’ quality of life. That must change.

Letters to the Editor dating back to the 1990s expressed concerns about traffic, and those concerns grow greater by the day and can no longer be ignored. At all of last fall’s countywide Planning and Zoning listening sessions, residents countywide, from north and south and from east and west, raised their concerns about traffic loud and clear. A full 68 percent of folks indicated in their comments on various plan elements that transportation and lack of infrastructure are their number-one concerns (25 percent, Transportation; 23 percent, Land Use; and 20 percent, Land Conservation).

It is as unacceptable now as it was 30 years ago for Sussex County officials to point their fingers at and defer to DelDOT to set the county’s road level of service and development standards, particularly when DelDOT’s levels of service standards over the past three decades have not even come close to being adequate to manage Sussex County’s congestion.

County Council must do the job for which we are paying them, managing development for the betterment of ALL of the county’s residents. The place to begin is with a strong, thoughtful Comprehensive Plan, focused on outcomes and impacts. The Plan must recommend strong standards regarding traffic mitigation and control measures to be applied to new development and incorporate them into the Land Use, Mobility and Conservation elements. New development should enhance our quality of life, our mobility and our safety, not detract from them. The residents of County deserve nothing less.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is holding a new series of listening sessions on the new draft Comprehensive Plan throughout the county in May. We encourage everyone to take 10 minutes to go to one of those meetings and voice their concerns and opinions on the direction of growth in our county over the next 10 years. Ten minutes for a better 10 years is a small price for a worthy outcome. Go to www.SussexPlan.com for the complete schedule.

Thank you for this opportunity to present our views.

Jeff Stone
Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth (SARG)

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