Sussex County Delays Freeman Hotel Decision

Sussex County Delays Freeman Hotel Decision
The site plan for the project on Route 54 and Bennett Avenue is pictured. Submitted Image

GEORGETOWN – Leaders in Sussex County this week agreed to defer a vote on a controversial conditional use request.

Following an hours-long public hearing on Tuesday, the Sussex County Council voted unanimously to defer voting on a conditional use request from the Carl M. Freeman Companies to develop a hotel and restaurant on a 9.2-acre parcel off Route 54.

Councilman John Rieley, who represents that area of the county, told attendees the deferral would allow the council to review materials and testimony.

“I recognize the passion in the room, but to give it due consideration I’m going to request we defer the vote …,” he said. “We’re going to give due consideration to everything presented.”

Tuesday’s public hearing came less than a month after the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 2-2 to recommend a denial of the company’s application. Commission members ultimately agreed to advance the applicant’s conditional use request as a denial, citing the lack of three affirmative votes.

“There’s no recommendation of approval, there’s no recommendation of denial, there’s no recommendation,” Jim Fuqua, the company’s attorney, told council members this week. “You are on your own for this one.”

In June, the planning and zoning commission held a public hearing on 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. Fuqua told the council this week the conditional use request – unlike a zoning change – would allow for restrictions on the property.

“Freeman chose the conditional use application process because it allows the applicant to accomplish this hotel and restaurant … while allowing the county council to propose conditions that will control the use and minimize the impact,” he said.

Fuqua noted the proposed development would be similar to uses at surrounding properties and was supported by the county’s comprehensive plan, as it would strengthen the county’s position as a tourism destination.

“Those considerations factually and legally entitle them to your approval,” he said.

Several nearby residents, however, told council members this week they opposed the project because it would bring more traffic to Route 54. While the developer would be required to fund the cost of a signal light at the intersection, resident Frank Cintron argued it would only cause more congestion.

“I know you have to have businesses,” he said, “but that’s not the right place for that one.”

Local farmer Henry Bennett, whose family once owned the property in question, agreed.

“Another intersection on Route 54 would back up traffic for miles,” he said.

Nancy Flacco, representing the Southern Sussex County Community Action Group, said she was concerned the development would impact quality of life for area residents.

“Let me emphasize we are not against development, but rather we are against development without consideration for public safety and environmental impacts,” she said.

Residents this week also shared their concerns surrounding wetlands.

Fuqua, however, said 53% of the 9.2-acre parcel would remain undeveloped. He added the wetlands would have significant buffers that exceeded requirements.

“No wetlands will be encroached, disturbed or touched,” he said.

Other topics of concern relating to the proposed conditional use application included pedestrian safety, emergency response times, stormwater runoff and flooding, to name a few.

Council staff noted the conditional use request received one comment in favor and 386 in opposition, those some were duplicates.

“They have to prove a hardship,” Fenwick Landing resident Fred Pioggia said. “I have not heard of any hardship.”

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.