Letter to the Editor: SARG offers testimonial of Councilman Burton’s time in office

December 2020 marks the conclusion of the term of Sussex County Council District 3 Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton III. The Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth (SARG) wants to acknowledge the contributions of Mr. Burton to the improvement and well-being of Sussex County.

Mr. Burton’s four years have been marked by notable efforts to initiate, sponsor and find solutions to myriad problems impacting not just his district, but the entire county. His approach has been congenial, fact-based and transparent.

When Mr. Burton joined the council, SARG admits to having been somewhat skeptical as to his intentions regarding issues of overdevelopment and environmental degradation harming District 3. His performance over the past four years proved him to be better than his campaign promises.

He tackled multiple issues, in collaboration with his council colleagues, that will move the county forward well into the future. His voice was instrumental in shaping and influencing the creation and ultimate adoption of a comprehensive plan that addresses the multitude of issues facing a rapidly growing and diverse county. Many issues had festered for decades before Mr. Burton took them on, working through the relationships he nurtured both on the council and with public interest groups. His flexibility constantly pushed him to seek “out of the box” solutions and avoid conventional assumptions. His involvement was critical regarding development issues, such as changing density calculations concerning wetlands, working to foster master planning and developing potential paths forward to address the undeniable need for workforce housing. He continually stressed and encouraged public input and was personally approachable and accessible to explain and debate his positions.

Environmental issues were a priority for Mr. Burton, and he tackled several, including the purchase of open space, the reintroduction of funding for farmland preservation, partnering with the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays to explore ways to clean up our bays and waterways and the formation of a working group to address buffers. The buffers effort did not pan out, as many players and events evolved in ways that were out of his control, but the boldness of Mr. Burton’s efforts, in the face of strong developer opposition, was commendable. It may have cost him a second term.

Transportation and traffic impacts on the county’s residents are, arguably, where Mr. Burton’s impact will be most felt, both in the short and long term. He was instrumental and tenacious in crafting and adopting the Henlopen Transportation Improvement District and influential in updating the 30-year-old memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the county and the Delaware Department of Transportation, as well as active in initiating the Funding Accelerating Safety in Transportation Track Program (FAST) to speed up needed safety road improvements within the county. All of these will positively impact the county for years to come.

Finally, Mr. Burton recently introduced an ordinance to balance and rationalize the county’s Agricultural Residential zoning between the Coastal Zone and the rest of the county, which will be considered in 2021. He will not have the opportunity to shepherd it through the process leading to adoption — that task will fall to others — but his leadership on this important legislation must be acknowledged and appreciated.

This testimonial is also an accolade to Mr. Burton’s colleagues on the current County Council and to the county’s professional staff, especially County Administrator Todd Lawson. Mr. Burton would be the first to acknowledge that he accomplished none of the above alone. It takes at least three votes, but many votes on these issues were unanimous or close to it.

SARG believes the county is in a better place, with more options available to combat damaging overdevelopment and the degradation of our critical environment, as well as with improvements to our quality of life, because of Mr. Burton’s contributions, on both the county Planning Commission and on the council. His vision for improving the quality of life in Sussex County and his formidable drive and determination to see it accomplished was extraordinary.

SARG will miss working with Mr. Burton but looks forward optimistically to continuing to partner with the new council in the same positive way.

SARG sincerely hopes that Mr. Burton will stay engaged in the public discourse for years to come. His leadership and perspective on critical issues is valued.

The Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth is a nonpartisan alliance to inform, educate and engage the citizens of Sussex County as to the critical importance of the development, adoption and implementation of a comprehensive plan that fosters smart growth, ensures a balance between a sustainable quality of life and economic development and encourages responsible and transparent governance.

Submitted on behalf of Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth.

Jeffrey Stone