Sussex County Council Stepped In It Again

dog poop  Sussex County Council seems to have a history of losing court cases.  On Friday, Delaware’s Chancery Court handed down a decision, overturning a Council vote concerning the Overbrook Town Center project, which would be located just North of Lewes, Delaware, on the Rt. 1 Highway.

The Council’s vote had denied, four to one, the developer’s request for a change of zoning from agriculture/residential, to commercial. The court’s decision, handed down by, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III, invalidated two of the no votes, cast by Council member, Sam Wilson and Council President Michael Vincent.

Slights pointed out, Wilson’s no vote was cast after giving several reason why the zoning should be changed, and no explanation for his no vote. It was pointed out that Vincent’s no vote was, according to his own statement, because of concerns a neighboring farmer would not be allowed to continue to use aerial crop dusting, even though if developed as the land is currently zoned, aerial crop dusting would also be prohibited.

The short story is, the Sussex County Council, seems to have based their majority opposition to this project, not on facts, nor on code or law, but upon the feelings of the people in the area who opposed the project.

There has arisen in Sussex County, what seems to be a complete opposition, to any sort of development, be it commercial or agriculture in nature. I have labeled the people who oppose all development as SCAAG, “Sussex Countians Against All Growth”. There also seems to be a sister organization I will call “Old Bored Sussex Transplanted Retirees Uttering Cantankerous Trivialities”, or OBSTRUCT!

I do not believe these people exist in great numbers, however, they do have a lot of time on their hands, seeing as they are retired, and many are former professionals who are well-educated. Also many have moved here from states in which it is essential, to be well versed in dealing with government.

This has led to these groups being able to constantly pester the County Council, and make it seem as if they are more powerful than they may actually be. And as we all know, elected officials have their priorities, and number one on that list is, being re-elected.

I believe, for the most part, it was fear which lead to the Council denying the change of zoning. What else could it have been? This project would create jobs, bring more people to the area to shop, and had the added benefit of the developer paying a large portion for an overpass at Cave Neck Rd. which will be needed eventually, with or without the project. Oh, did I forget to mention, the developer met every requirement?

This is however just one piece of a growing pattern in Sussex County. There was opposition to a poultry plant in Millsboro, in a building which had previously been used to process food products and was already zoned for the business. There is opposition to chicken houses being built on Rt. 404 east of Bridgeville. And just last week County Council denied a change of zone for a gym on Savannah Rd., just outside of Lewes. This is a business wanting to relocate, and expand.

Sussex County   “Your Business Partner”? Really? Maybe it should read. Sussex County

The Chancery Court has ordered the Council to take another vote on the project. So will things change? Who knows. Council member, Rob Arlette was the single yes vote last time, and I would hope he votes yes again. Former member Joan Deaver did not run for re-election and that seat is held by I.G. Burton, who by the way voted no on the project when he was on the Planning and Zoning Board, so we can only hope he has seen something since then to allow him to be a business friendly conservative, and not give into the pressure of his district. George Cole is a bit of a wild card, having voted no, could he change his vote?

Which brings us to the two votes which were overturned, Wilson and Vincent. To be honest, Michael Vincent is my councilman, and I though I knew him fairly well, when it came to how he would vote on something like this, and I am hoping he will see the benefits of this project, to the entire county, and not base his vote on the impact to one farmer.

Here is the good news, Sam Wilson may not remember how he voted last time, and since he gave such good reasons for the change of zoning last time, might he actually vote in  favor this time?

This council has made some bad decisions, about which battles to fight, be it prayer during meetings, or voting not on the rule of law, but about people’s feelings, one can only hope, given this second chance to do what is good for the majority of the county, they do just that, and approve the change of zoning this time. Or as I have said in the past, maybe we need to change some asses in certain seats.


13 Comments on "Sussex County Council Stepped In It Again"

  1. waterpirate says:

    All good stuff, but… Is it the job of Council members to vote as their districts indicate, or vote the letter of the law? If it is the latter, this stuff should not even be in front of the council for a vote. It would be a P&Z matter. If the members are to support the wishes of their districts, then you are right in decisions are made at the ballot box, if they are not representing their district.

    Completely off topic….
    I had the pleasure of some one on one interaction with George Towns finest today. Call me old fashioned but if a law officer is in uniform and displaying a plethora of tattoos it is wholly un professional in appearance. Tattoos should be below the neck line and above the cuff line, and covered when in uniform. Yea it was hot today and he was in short sleeves. Maybe he should have thought of that prior to getting all that ink? What say any of you?

  2. delacrat says:

    “…not give into the pressure of his district.” – Frank

    Constituents be damned !!!!

  3. Frank Knotts says:

    Let me answer both Water Pirate and Delacrat on the question of, letter of the law? Or constituent’s pressure?
    Both is the answer. The county council is elected to represent there districts and constituents, and the overall good of the entire county, but only within the letter of the law. If not, why have laws and codes and regulations?
    I have said many times, there are laws we may not agree with, this does not mean we should just ignore those laws, it means we should work to change those laws. If that means electing different people to first change the laws, then so be it.
    This is why we have courts, so when our elected officials decide to act outside the scope of the written law, there is recourse for those wronged.
    This developer met all requirements for a change of zoning, and as Rob Arlette said in his yes vote statement, and I paraphrase, “If you can’t build this on a major highway, where can you build it”?
    It is also notable, the council later voted approval of another shopping center on Gills Neck Road, a much more congested area. It is this type of arbitrary decision making which the court sited in overturning the two no votes.
    The council also ignore the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Board on the issue of the Overbrook Town Center. It is clear those voting no did so in response to the outcry of the few people who live in the area, rather than looking at the law, and the overall good such a project would produce for the entire county.

  4. fightingbluehen says:

    Planning and Zoning gave a recommendation for a Gym on Savannah Rd and everyone but Sam Wilson voted against it. Apples and Oranges?

  5. mike says:

    The judges decision bothers me. In part, Judge Slights cites the fact that he found Councilman Wlson’s explanation for the “no” vote confusing and unclear. It seems to me that voters in his district elected him to represent them, despite the fact that he is known to say things that many find difficult to follow or not rooted in facts. In other words his behavior before and during the process of voting on Overbrook was typical. You can disagree with him, you can find his logic hard to fathom, you can say he is inconsistent, but since when has this been a reason to throw out his vote?

  6. delacrat says:


    If the you believe the role of the Sussex County Council is to approve what the Planing and Zoning Board recommends, what is the point of having the Council vote on any of their recommendations at all ?

  7. Frank Knotts says:

    FBH, no mot apples and oranges in my opinion. Like the town center, where the gym was to be located is a likely place. The area around the gym is already largely commercial.
    Mike, what I read both in accounts of the judgement and at the time of the vote, was that Sam Wilson gave excellent reasons to vote yes, but then voted no with no explanation. And while Sam Wilson is elected by his district, like all members, when they vote, they affect all citizens and it would be nice if he were at least coherent.
    Delacrat, P&Z is a board of people whose role is to make recommendations based on code and the Comp. plan and the effect it would have on the entire county. The Council is free to ignore those recommendations, then why have the P&Z?

  8. delacrat says:


    The P & Z does not consider the political dimensions of their recommendations, that’s why it goes to County Council.

  9. Frank Knotts says:

    Delacrat, thank you for making my point. They are two parts of the system, that does not mean the council , who has final say, can or should simply ignore the law. Should the final decision be based on the re-election fall out of that decision?

  10. waterpirate says:

    I have no dog in this fight except to say that the council has a long history of arbitrary decision making. In my world arbitrary decision making is rooted in the politics. or should I say ” the good old crooked way.” P&Z vs. the council gives us some semblance of balance with the higher power winning out.

    I tend to side with P&Z, but because it is legal and meets the goals of the county plan does not make it right. Short answer, this is another soup sandwich.

  11. delacrat says:


    Since the council “has the final say”, disregarding the P & Z’s recommendation does not equal “ignoring the law”. Apparently, you do not realize that Sussex County Council need not rubber stamp every P & Z recommendation

  12. Frank Knotts says:

    Delacrat I understand perfectly how the system works, I also know the reasons given for the votes, or the lack there of. These votes were cast in response to a small group of transplants for the most part who moved into a corn filed and now want to pretend they care about corn fields.
    The council talks about economic growth, yet lately have voted against almost everything which might provide some. The only thing they will approve is houses. Why? Because they get more transfer tax revenue from homes.

  13. mike says:

    Frank Knotts said: “Sam Wilson is elected by his district, like all members, when they vote, they affect all citizens and it would be nice if he were at least coherent”

    I agree Frank, it would be nice if he were coherent.. I just believe our system is based on a premise that voters posses the right to enforce this preference, not judges. If Wilson violated a law, then the judge has a role in sorting it out. When the judge essentially says “I cant understand the justification for his vote, based on his previous statements” I don’t really like that as a basis for judicial intervention. By the way, none of this is really a statement on how I feel about the Overbrook project itself.

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