Annexation requests draw crowd. Council members among those who speak up in favor of proposals.

By Lynn R. Parks

As they did last year, citizens who live along Hearns Pond are objecting to a proposal to annex 240 acres of farmland near the pond into the city of Seaford. "There may be a time that we want to expand our borders, but this is not the time," Brenda Stover said Tuesday night during a public hearing on the annexation request. "Seaford needs to get back to its roots." "Why do we want to go out there and control all of the land, but at the same time lose the real essence of our town?" asked Nancy Hall, owner of Two Cats in the Yard gift shop in downtown Seaford. "Our town is the downtown. Our town is the Nanticoke River." But former Mayor Guy Longo cautioned that failure to expand its borders will harm the city. "If we don't move ahead with this annexation, the city will realize dire financial consequences in the future," he said. "We might as well put a sign up saying that we are not interested in new people and industry in our city. It would be fiscally disastrous." The hearing, attended by about 40 people, was on two annexation requests. Ray Mears and Sons is seeking the annexation of 193 acres of farmland at the intersection of Bridgeville Highway and Hearns Pond Road. And Morris Properties has requested that 46 acres just south of the Mears property, at the intersection of Bridgeville Highway and Garden Lane, become part of the city. City manager Dolores Slatcher said Wednesday morning that a date for a public vote on the annexation requests will probably be set at the city council meeting on March 11. Both properties were among six parcels that were rejected for annexation in a public vote in September 2006. At that time, the property owners were requesting zoning to permit high-density residential development as well as commercial development. This time, they are asking for zoning for single-family houses and commercial development. "They are trying to do the same thing again, but in smaller bites," said Hearns Pond resident Errol Matthews. "I request that the council table this for future study, to address the issues that came forth last year, because they will be back again this year." Last year's rejection by the voters of the Mears and Morris annexations came after a citizens group, HAPPEN (Hearns Pond Association for its Protection, Preservation, Enhancement and Naturalization), campaigned against the annexations. Flyers that members of the group handed out in a door-to-door campaign and that were headed "Beware" said that the annexation could triple the city's population. In addition to Mears and Morris, two other property owners were requesting that their parcels be zoned for high-density residential development. Tuesday night, Longo criticized the HAPPEN flyer as scare tactics. "Development is a very slow process," he said. "It will take years before this land is developed and it is important to get it in the city so the city has control."

On Wednesday morning, Stover said that she does not know what steps, if any, HAPPEN will take regarding the annexation request. Members recently went door to door in Seaford, handing out flyers to inform residents of the upcoming public hearing. "Come to the public hearing√Čand ask questions such as, how will this annexation benefit me?" the flyer read. "Is bigger necessarily better? Why press for annexation now when there is so much that needs to be done for us in town?" During the public hearing, Stover asked if downtown Seaford is something for the city to be proud of. "Is it a place that when you have people visit, you say, 'Oh, come look at our beautiful downtown'?" she said. "We walked the streets of Seaford, handing out flyers, and we saw all of Seaford. And it's not a pretty sight. I would hope that instead of going to the outside, we would start by working on the inside." Esther Berner, who also lives on Hearns Pond Road and is a volunteer at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, said that she is concerned that the hospital could not handle additional population that the annexation would mean. "The other day I was at the hospital and there were 19 people waiting in the emergency room," she said. "The hospital had no place to put them. If we add all these people, how is the hospital going to cope?" All of the city council members, as well as Mayor Ed Butler, spoke in favor of the annexation. Councilman Mike Vincent said that the growth that the annexation would bring to the city would help solve some of the problems opponents to the annexation talked about. "We all know that the hospital is in financial trouble," he said. "But the one thing that helps a hospital is the number of people it serves. It's got to have patients and more patients." As for bringing a grocery store to the heart of Seaford, "if we want a grocery store, we've got to have more people," Vincent said. A number of annexation proponents cautioned that development of the farmland around Hearns Pond is inevitable, and that it would be better to have the city control that development than the county. "The city will pay attention to us," said Richard Thek, Seaford. "If you try to get the county council's attention, you can't even get on the agenda." "Bridgeville is actively annexing land," added Longo. "It wouldn't take much for them to cross Delaware 18 and come on down to Hearns Pond." Longo said that annexation and development of the two parcels would mean "slow, steady income" to enable the city to pay for increasing costs for personnel, electricity, water, wastewater treatment and fuel. "If living here is going to continue to be affordable, we need to grow," he said. Addressing the council, Longo said that he hopes that its members do all they can to ensure that when the annexation requests come before they public, they are approved. "I will certainly do all I can to make sure that the vote is successful," he added.

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