Sussex residents protest 'uncontrolled development' in Georgetown
About 60 people gathered in front of Sussex County offices on The Circle in Georgetown on Tuesday morning to protest what they described as "uncontrolled development."
They carried signs that read: "Require impact fees," "Time to change ordinances," "Stop the traffic," "More green space buffers" and simply "Enough." The sounds of horns went on for hours as protesters encouraged drivers to honk.
The effort was organized by the grassroots group Sussex2030, who said in its weekly newsletter that it is protesting "county officials overlooking the cumulative, detrimental impact of uncontrolled development without long-term planning and adequate infrastructure on homeowner value, traffic congestion & the environment."
According to the county's 2022 budget, over 10,000 building permits have been issued annually in Sussex since at least 2017. Over 14,000 are expected to be issued this year.
Sussex County Councilmen John Rieley and Doug Hudson made themselves available during the protest to listen to and speak with protesters in council chambers. County Administrator Todd Lawson also attended and answered questions.
Rieley acknowledged the county's recent growth.
"There's no question, I think. In the last two years there's been a big uptick in people coming here," he said. "I think we're witnessing a mega-trend, a migration out of the cities. Plus the baby boomer wave is still in process, you have a lot of people retiring."
Sussex County's population has essentially doubled since 1990.
When asked if the growth rate in Sussex is at all concerning to him, Rieley said, "Yeah, we wrestle with this stuff constantly."
On the flip side, Hudson pointed to property rights.
"We have farmers that retire and they have kids or grandkids that don't want to take over this big farming operation so people come in and wanna buy their land, and I look at that as their 401(k) package. As a government, we cannot tell them they can't sell their land," he said.
The council convened for a regular meeting Tuesday afternoon, giving some of the protesters the opportunity to comment before the entire council. Several expressed their concern for the rate of development in the county and its effects on infrastructure and the environment.
Keith Steck of Milton asked the council to create to create two working groups of citizens, developers and experts from the University of Delaware Institute of Public Administration. He suggested one group conduct a comprehensive review of county ordinances, particularly the zoning and subdivision ordinances, and the other study the possibility of implementing impact fees.
Dave Breen of Lewes urged the council to act.
"Ignoring the 280,000 residents and allowing development to go on ... is not acceptable," he said. "The council has all the authority, I believe, that it needs and chooses not to exercise that authority ... I thank you for your time but I also ask that you do something, rather than just stand around and pretend it doesn't make a difference. It does.