Juust Sooup gets preliminary approval from county planners

The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission voted this week to approve a preliminary site plan for a church on the Jusst Sooup Ministry grounds on Cool Spring Road near Lewes. The 6.05-acre parcel presently includes a two-story dwelling, a two-story cottage, an outdoor pavilion and a shed – constructed for the Dunning family and their ministry as part of an “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project.

The site plan indicates that church services will be held in the existing soup kitchen facility, with seating for 70 people.

Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson acknowledged the opposition of some nearby homeowners to the enhanced use of the property, in the wake of earlier opposition to the Rev. Dale Dunning’s request to serve from the newly constructed soup-kitchen facility, rather than the remote facilities she had previously been using. The county Board of Adjustments had rejected that use earlier this year, likening it to a restaurant, rather than permitted uses of the residentially-zoned property.

Robertson reminded the audience in attendance at the Feb. 23 hearing that churches are a permitted use in the AR-1 residential district, as they are in all zoning districts, and he stated that the commission simply looks at the site plan itself to determine whether it complies with the zoning code. He also reminded the audience that the county is not in a position to hold the property owner, the proposed church or its site plan to a higher or different level of scrutiny than any other church.

“The use that it is ultimately put to is not at issue right now,” said Robertson. “They have submitted a site plan for church, and that’s what the commission needs to look at.”

“If, at some point, it’s not used as church, then the county and the property owners will need to consider whether additional zoning approvals are necessary,” he added, “but, again, in the meantime, they submitted a site plan for a church, which is a permitted use in the AR-1 district, and the commission’s responsibility is to review the site plan, as its required to do under the zoning code for the county.”

He said he just wanted to point that out because “we have a few more people in attendance than we usually do for a site-plan application.”

Just before the planned airing of the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” episode that depicted the volunteer-based building of the soup kitchen and the new home of Dale and Ken Dunning and their son this past Thanksgiving, the Sussex County Board of Adjustments denied an application by Jusst Sooup Ministries to serve soup on-site at the newly built kitchen south of Cool Spring Road.

The BoA said their job was to determine if the proposed use is in “keeping with other uses that are permitted in a zoning district” for the special-use exception. Many of the board members likened the use to more of a restaurant than anything and said, while they were appreciative of the good deeds the Dunnings do with their ministry, they couldn’t approve the special use because of that.

The final approval of the site plan would be subject to staff receiving all agency approvals, along with a wetlands note and the appropriate signature on the final site plan, said commissioners.