Residents of Hearn's Pond area protest annexation of 600 acres

By Lynn R. Parks

Residents of the Hearn's Pond area packed into Seaford City Hall Tuesday night to protest the proposed annexation of more than 600 acres. Brenda Stover, speaking for the Hearn's Pond citizens group HAPPEN (HearnsPond Association for its Protection, Preservation, Enhancement and Naturalization), cautioned that annexation of the land without a clear plan of how it will be developed could turn Seaford into "Potterville," the dismal town in the Jimmy Stewart classic, "It's a Wonderful Life." "It is my nightmare that this development will attract people unwilling to obtain the working skills that are valuable to the community," she said. She also cautioned that the development could generate too much traffic for roads to accommodate. "This development, as proposed, will cause catastrophic flooding in Seaford," she added. "What happens to Hearn's Pond happens to all of Seaford." Five of the six parcels in question are located in a square bounded on three sides by Conrail Road (Sussex 546), Hearn's Pond Road and alternate U.S. 13. Those parcels comprise 558 acres. The sixth parcel sits on the other side of U.S. 13, on Old Furnace Road. Owner of that 45-acre parcel, Nanette Corey, Bridgeville, is requesting that the property be zoned for single-family homes. But it was the five parcels near Hearn's Pond with which the people at Tuesday night's city council meeting were most concerned. Owners of two of those parcels, Ray S. Mears and Sons and Tuong T. Quan, are requesting that their properties be annexed with R-3 zonings, Seaford's high-density residential zoning. That zoning permits up to 14 units per acre. Owners of another two parcels, St. Rockland & Company (137 acres) and Morris Properties (46 acres) are requesting that their properties be mixed zoning, for high-density residential and light commercial building. Owners of the fifth parcel, Steven and Cynthia Yingling, are requesting that that parcel be zoned for light industrial development. Mears indicated that St. Rockland, a development company based in Wilmington, would develop all of the property. He compared that company to Lacrosse Homes, the company that with Mears is developing Mearfield, a housing community at the intersection of alternate U.S. 13 and Herring Run Road. "The people from St. Rockland are of the same caliber," he said. "If they tell you they will do something, it will be done as they say. I do trust them."

Susan Messick, who lives on Hearn's Pond Road, cautioned that allowing high-density residential development in "one of the most beautiful areas on the east coast" would change its character forever. Referring to the Hearn and Rawlins mill that stands at the east edge of the pond, she said, "We don't want to lose a part of the area's history." Messick echoed the sentiments of many when she said that residents in the Hearn's Pond area want to be involved in planning the new development. "We want a development we can all be proud of," she said. "Seaford is an architecturally-rich town with eclectic neighborhoods and we want this to be a development with that kind of flavor. We want it to be planned and well thought out. We want our children to be proud of this community." "It is essential to have the plans in place prior to annexation rather than after," said Gabriel Zepecki, who also lives on Hearn's Pond Road. Andy Strine, who with his brother Derrick owns St. Rockland & Company, indicated that he too wants to build a community of which his children can be proud. But he added that getting all the plans worked out before annexation is ensured is not possible. "It just doesn't make sense from a business viewpoint," he said. "But I make you this promise," he added. "We look forward to working with you, to make it a better project than it would have been. We are pretty good listeners." Derrick Strine said that having the property annexed before it is developed would be better . It would be worse, he added, if the development "is controlled from the county seat," which has "no real neighborhood or community sense." Paul Hansen, who lives on 17 acres on Conrail Road, wondered why the city would permit light industrial development right next to his small farm. "I thought I got out of this kind of thing when I moved here from across the bridge," he said, pointing toward the west and the Bay Bridge that spans the Chesapeake Bay. "What are you going to do with all the homes out there, if that land is zoned light industrial? There is so much traffic out there now, you can hardly get out of my driveway." Many of the Hearn's Pond area residents begged the city to slow down the annexation process, to "give it a year or two to address these issues," Stover said. "There is no real rush. And can we really afford to go forward without knowing all these answers?" But once the annexation process is in place, the city charter demands that it move forward, city manager Dolores Slatcher said. Messick asked members of the city council if, had they heard comments from residents at the start of the annexation process, that would have made a difference in how they proceeded. Committees made up of council members prepared annexation reports that recommended that the process move forward. Councilman Rhea Shannon said that hearing from the residents would not have changed anything about his recommendation regarding the annexations. "I think I know a lot about Seaford," he said, referring to his long-time Seaford roots. "I look out in this audience and many of you have lived here just 10 or 12 years. I know what's best for Seaford." Next step in the annexation process is a public vote, in which all residents of the city as well as owners and residents of the properties in question will be able to cast ballots. The city council will set the date for that vote at its next meeting, Aug. 22.

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