Route 54 Hotel Project Headed To Sussex Council

GEORGETOWN – Plans for a hotel and restaurant off Route 54 will advance to the Sussex County Council following a tie vote of the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission.

At a meeting earlier this month, the commission voted 2-2, with Commissioner Holly Wingate abstaining, on a motion recommending the denial of a conditional use request from Carl M. Freeman Companies to develop a hotel and restaurant on 9.2 acres of land in the AR-1 agricultural district.

As the commission was deadlocked on whether to support the recommendation, members decided to advance the applicant’s request to the Sussex County Council.

“The ordinance requires us to have three affirmative votes for a motion to pass. If it’s 2-2, the motion will fail,” Commission Chair Robert Wheatley said. “After that, if that happens, then our choices are to have a different motion – move to approve or move to table – or let it go forward as a denial, but the reason for denial will not be the motion because it did not get three affirmative votes.”

In June, the 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 district for the development of a 70-room hotel and 8,500-square-foot restaurant at Route 54 and Bennett Avenue.

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The proposed development, however, was met with opposition from surrounding property owners concerned the project would adversely impact wetlands, traffic and emergency response times, among other things.

At the start of this month’s meeting, Commissioner Bruce Mears made a motion to recommend the denial of the applicant’s conditional use request, citing issues such as parking, traffic congestion and the sensitivity of surrounding wetlands, to name a few. He added the commission also received letters of opposition from more than 160 property owners near the site.

“While the site is designated as a coastal area on the comprehensive plan, the proposed hotel and restaurant is too intensive for the area,” he said. “It’s not compatible and would be out of character with the surrounding properties, and does not promote the orderly growth, convenience, prosperity and welfare of the county.”

Commissioner Kim Hoey Stevenson supported the motion.

“In this case, I think the commercial use they’re talking about would be higher density and more traffic than other uses that should go there,” she said. “I’m not saying it shouldn’t be developed.”

Commissioner Keller Hopkins, however, told members he opposed the motion. He questioned what surrounding property owners would do if it were their land.

“I wonder if they would have the same perspective if it was their land and they were trying to do something with it …,” he said. “Just because you have 20, or 30, or 50, or 100 people that feel they should be able to tell you what you should be able to do with your land, I don’t think that’s a healthy direction to move in.”

Wheatley said he supported the applicant’s request, as there was currently no hotel in the area.

“I thought the fact that there was no hotel in the area was a reason to have one there …,” he said. “This is essentially an infill project.”

After further discussion, the commission voted 2-2 to recommend the denial of the applicant’s conditional use request. The denial will now advance to the Sussex County Council, which will hold a public hearing on July 27 at 1:30 p.m.

“My motion was not driven by opposition …,” Mears said. “It was driven by a great idea in a wrong location.”

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.