Freeman Planning Hotel, Restaurant Development Off Route 54; Residents Speak Out At Public Hearing

Freeman Planning Hotel, Restaurant Development Off Route 54; Residents Speak Out At Public Hearing
The site plan for the project on Route 54 and Bennett Avenue is pictured. Submitted Image

GEORGETOWN – Several residents along the Route 54 corridor voiced their opposition this week to a proposed hotel and restaurant near the entrance to Fenwick Island.

On Thursday, the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing to discuss a proposed ordinance granting Carl M. Freeman Companies a conditional use of land in the AR-1 agricultural residential district for the development of a hotel and restaurant.

The company’s attorney, Jim Fuqua, told commission members the 9.2-acre parcel, located at Route 54 and Bennett Avenue, is part of an adjoining 120-plus acre property. While much of the site has already been approved for a 70-lot subdivision, he said his client is now seeking a conditional use to develop the parcel fronting Route 54.

“The 9.2 acres fronting Route 54 is the remaining portion of the property that was not part of the approved subdivision,” he said. “The conditional use proposes two separate but related uses. The front parcel would be the site of the restaurant with a total square footage not to exceed 8,500 square feet and the rear portion would be developed as a 70-room hotel with an outdoor pool.”

Planning and zoning staff told commission members this week the agency received more than 100 letters in opposition to the conditional use application and one letter in support. While many residents voiced their concerns regarding the project’s impact on surrounding wetlands, Fuqua said the conditional use would maintain wetland buffers.

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“None of the wetlands will be encroached,” he said, “and all the wetlands, both tidal and nontidal, will have significant buffers.”

As part of the development, Fuqua added that the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) has required his client to realign Bennett Avenue and fund the cost of a signal light at the intersection. He said the agreement was a result of a recent study the transportation department conducted along Route 54.

“DelDOT was requiring the applicant to enter into a signal agreement for cost associated with a future signal light at the realigned Route 54, Bennett Avenue intersection,” he said.

Fuqua said his client has proposed several conditions be added to the conditional use application, including a restriction on the restaurant’s outdoor music and dining and a restriction on drive-thru capabilities.

“In other words, there are no plans for this to be a fast food type of restaurant,” he said.

Fuqua told commission members the proposed plan for a restaurant and hotel aligned with the county’s comprehensive plan. He noted the property is one of the last sites to be developed along Route 54.

“Instead of seeking one of the business or commercial zoning districts as a change-of-zone application, which would permit a wide variety of uses… the applicant elected conditional use approval for the specific uses proposed,” he said. “That accomplishes the applicant’s plans and enables the county to place conditions on approval as the county deems appropriate.”

When asked about the developer’s plans for lighting, Fuqua said they included two lighted entrance signs, as well as pole lighting in the parking lot. He noted, however, that there is no intent to create a nuisance.

“The same company is developing the subdivision behind this, so they’re going to be impacted as much as anybody would be impacted by this,” he said. “It will certainly be done properly.”

Most residents in attendance for Thursday’s meeting said they were most concerned about the traffic the proposed development would generate. Community member Doris Pierce argued traffic was already bad enough along Route 54.

“I’d hate to see more traffic put on Route 54,” she said, “because the infrastructure can’t handle it.”

Resident Ben Moses agreed.

“As we continue to grow this area, we need to consider how fast we can respond to emergency situations,” he added. “I think there’s a significant impact.”

Several residents added they wished to see one of the corridor’s last open areas protected. Local farmer Henry Bennett, whose family once owned the property in question, said he was strongly opposed to the company’s plans, as it would have impacts on traffic, water pollution and water recreation, to name a few.

“I think this furthers the disconnect the developer has with this area,” he added. “I think the natural and logical decision would be to leave it as the last bit of natural beauty on Route 54.”

At the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, Commission Chair Robert Wheatley encouraged the public to attend the next hearing before the Sussex County Council, which considers the commission’s recommendations.

“We make a recommendation, we don’t make a final decision,” he said. “That decision will be made by your county council.”

A 214-page information sheet on the project can be found here.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.