Annexation vote on Monday will decide fate of 600 acres

By Lynn R. Parks

Monday's vote on the annexation of more than 600 acres into the city of Seaford will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. That, said Brenda Stover, who is heading up a group of Hearn's Pond-area residents opposed to the annexation, is not a good time for a referendum. "On a Monday, from 2 to 6, most people are working," said Stover at Thursday night's meeting of HAPPEN (HearnsPond Association for its Protection, Preservation, Enhancement and Naturalization), a group formed to fight the annexation. "They will not be able to get there." Even so, the city of Seaford is not making available absentee ballots. "We would have to get a charter change to do that," said Mayor Ed Butler. "We hand out absentee ballots for all other elections, but we have never done it for an annexation vote." City manager Dolores Slatcher said that the city's charter makes no provision for absentee ballots for annexation votes. "And if there is no provision for it, you can't do it," she added. The charter specifies that any annexation vote be held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., 30 to 60 days following a public hearing on the annexation. The public hearing on this annexation was held Aug. 8. The charter does not mandate that the vote be held on a specific day of the week, Slatcher said. The date for this vote was set by the city council at the Aug. 22 meeting, following the recommendation of the city manager. State Department of Elections commissioner Frank Calio said that the state allows municipalities to run local referendums and council elections by their individual charters. State law does require that absentee ballots be provided for general elections. The lack of absentee ballots in the Seaford annexation vote could be part of any legal action that HAPPEN takes after Monday's vote. Howard Dhondt, a member of HAPPEN, has approached the Delaware chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union about assisting the group with a potential lawsuit. "We will see what the outcome of the vote is," said Stover. "Then we will decide if we will seek the ACLU's help." At stake is the annexation of six parcels of land, five of which form a block bounded on three sides by Conrail Road (Sussex 546), Hearn's Pond Road and alternate U.S. 13. Those parcels comprise 558 acres. 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 housing units per acre. Owners of another two parcels, Wilmington-based development company 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. 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. "We need this annexation to be stopped this time," Stover said at Thursday night's HAPPEN meeting. "All this development needs a closer look," she added Monday. "This is all happening so quickly, that not enough thought is going into what's going to happen to this area." But Rex Mears, Seaford, of Ray Mears and Sons said that any development that goes onto the land will get a closer look. "Annexation is just the beginning of the process," he said. "In each step of the development, there is a lot of chance for input in that plan. Rockland is a good outfit that is trying to do what's right. They will work along with people every step of the way." And, Mears warned, if turned down by the city, the developer could decide to build anyway, with the land remaining a part of the county. The county permits mobile home parks, while the city of Seaford does not.

"You are a lot better off dealing with the city than dealing with the county," he said. On Saturday, Stover and other volunteers with HAPPEN manned a booth at the Woodland Ferry Festival. Stover said that up to 100 people stopped by the booth to express support for the group's goal. Stover said that she believes that the opposition to the annexation was sparked by June's flood, in which roads and homes throughout western Sussex County suffered damage after a storm dumped up to 13 inches of rain on the area. "Hearn's Pond has been here 150 years and we have not had any problems until the last five years or so," she said. In August 2001, the dam at Hearn's Pond washed out after another heavy rain passed through the area. "Now, it seems that we can't have a big storm and escape unscathed," Stover added. "What has changed? Development has changed." Mears countered that development will improve the runoff situation around Hearn's Pond. "There is less storm runoff from a site that is developed than from an open field that is planted in corn," he said. All of the land up for annexation is farmland. Water resources engineer Peder Hansen, environmental program manager with the state's Surface Water Discharges section, said that it is possible that the runoff situation would in fact improve with development. "With development, there would be more opportunity for best management practices to be put in place," he said. Those practices would include detention ponds and ways to trap sediments, neither of which is required on farmland. "If this was a forested area, I would say that leaving it alone would be better than development," he said. "But since it is agricultural, strictly from a stormwater management perspective, development would be better." But Margaret Vivian, grassroots coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that the development could be worse for the bay than the existing farmland is. Hearn's Pond is in the Nanticoke River watershed, part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. "Acre for acre, development means two times the nutrients going into the bay as with agriculture," she said. Nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, are left over from excess fertilizer, leach out from septic systems and make their way into the bay watershed through wastewater treatment plants. They promote algae growths that suck oxygen from the water and shade valuable bottom-growing grasses. Mears said that he was surprised by the opposition to the annexation. "I really thought all this was being done in good faith," he said. "I think all of us want Seaford to be a nice place to be. I believe in my heart that we are better off being in the city than in the county, as development occurs down the road. And I don't think that we should close the borders of Seaford." "Development and annexation will not go away," said Stover. "We know that. But this is happening so quickly. There's not enough thought going into what's going to happen to our city. If we just have another year before the annexation, that will give us more time to be involved in the decision process." City could grow by 600+ acres On Monday, citizens of Seaford will vote on the annexation of six parcels of land totaling more than 600 acres. The parcels are:
  • 45 acres on Old Furnace Road, owned by Nanette Corey, Bridgeville. Corey is requesting that the land be zoned for residential development.
  • 193 acres on Bridgeville Highway (alternate U.S. 13), owned by Ray S. Mears and Sons, Seaford. Mears is requesting that the land be zoned for light commercial development and high-density residential development.
  • 137 acres at Hearn's Pond Road and Bridgeville Highway, owned by St. Rockland and Company, Wilmington. Requested zoning is for light commercial and high-density residential development.
  • 46 acres on Bridgeville Highway, 150 feet south of Garden Lane, owned by Morris Properties, Wilmington. Requested zoning is for light commercial and high-density residential development.
  • 141 acres on Hearn's Pond Road, owned by Tuong T. Quan, Seaford. Quan is requesting that the land be zoned for high-density residential development.
  • 42 acres on Speck Road, owned by Steven and Cynthia Yingling, Glen Rock, Pa. The Yinglings are requesting that the land be zoned for light industrial development.
Voting will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in city hall. For information, call 629-9173.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.