County approves borrow pit in Clarksville amid dissent

The Sussex County Council this week approved a conditional use for a borrow pit east of Irons Lane Road and north of Old Mill Road in the Clarksville/Millville area, on a vote of 3-2, with council members George Cole and Joan Deaver dissenting.

Sussex County Planning & Zoning commissioners had recommended approval for Conditional Use 1897 for Russell Banks in June 2011, for a borrow pit on 17 acres of a 30.78 acre parcel, citing a need for dirt, sand and gravel in the area. The approval had 20 conditions, including but not limited to buffers along the border, no obvious visual activity from either Road 348 or 349, erosion and sediment control, a depth maximum, inspections by county officials every five years, performance guarantees and limitations on hours of operations.

Cole this week asked about other borrow pits in the area, saying they had reclamation plans that included ponds or wildlife habitat, and he asked what this applicant’s plans were.

County Planning Director Lawrence Lank said they had not submitted a reclamation plan yet and that it would be submitted with the site plan approval to Planning & Zoning.

“So we have no idea of any plan? There’s none submitted?” asked Cole. He also questioned the five-year inspections, asking how long that would go on, “for 50 years, or 75 or 80?”

“It’s unfair to the people who live in the residential areas around it,” said Cole.

Council President Michael Vincent then read from the applicant’s own suggestions, which had a cap of 40 years on the pit. “They agreed to it, but it didn’t get in,” Vincent said.

“I have no answer to that,” Lank replied.

Councilman Sam Wilson then said there was no way to know how much dirt he would be able to sell, and Vincent interjected, “It has nothing to do with how much dirt they are selling, Sam. The applicant suggested it, and it didn’t get in. It makes sense it should be in there.”

“I hope for the sake of those who plan on approving it, that you include some of those assurances,” said Cole. “It’s a little weak.” He then said that 40 years was “way out of line.”

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously on some of P&Z’s conditions to strengthen wording by requiring performance guarantees instead of recommending them, by adding the language about 40 years and changing the reclamation process to show the property would be reclaimed in phases as the project progressed.

“Are those [performance] guarantees in there?” asked Cole.

“Probably not,” Lank replied.

With the changes, Deaver and Cole still cited that the project still did not mesh with surrounding residential property and the amount of residential development planned for that area. Deaver cited the truck traffic, the number of nearby borrow pits that already exist and questions about property ownership and the possible effect on drinking water.

Cole said he disagreed with the P&Z, saying the project would have an adverse impact on neighboring properties. He said the future land use for the area, with sewer planned for future growth, is “as a AR-1, medium residential area, not industrial.”

“You have Bay Colony, which was started 25 years ago, Cripple Creek, Saw Grass, the Greens, Mallard Landing — thousands of units have been planned on that road alone,” Cole noted. “This will impact the rights of people who own real estate in that area that want to develop. We need to protect those rights, and approving this is not supported by any land-use principles. And 40 years is excessive. The area is desirable for residential development, and to change that track and drop a borrow pit in that area is wrong.”

He also read in the language for the approval where it said it would be “used locally for the entire county.”

“That’s a very poor reason, to provide dirt for the entire county. We don’t want dirt trucks going from Seaford to Rehoboth. We want it in the area, and this area has a number of pits already.”

Councilman Sam Wilson refuted notion of countywide transit in his reasoning for voting to approve the project, saying it would be “ridiculous” for trucks to go that far and haulers wouldn’t make any money. “It’s a ridiculous statement.”

Councilman Vance Phillips voted to approve, as well, saying the council had added to the applicant’s conditions, “discriminating against this landowner today.”

Vincent said, while he understood Deaver’s and Cole’s concerns, he felt the amendments the council made to the conditions for approval answered any lingering questions.

“I realize there are property rights for all involved, but I feel we answered the questions and made good changes,” Vincent said.

Also at the June 12 council meeting, the Council approved a bid from Mumford & Miller Concrete Inc. for $3 million, contingent upon receiving FAA grants, for the 500-foot expansion of the runway at the county airpark. They also amended the contract with Urban Engineers, increasing it by $346,000, also subject to FAA grants being received, for construction management on the project.