Dagsboro weighing proposed liquor retailer in City Heart District – Delaware State Information

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DAGSBORO — Town of Dagsboro officials want a pulse of the community on a contentious issue brewing since last September — a potential town code change that would permit liquor stores in Dagsboro’s Town Center District.

A public referendum might be the route.

Monday’s council meeting ended with council leaning toward a special virtual public workshop in early February, but a Tuesday follow-up conversation brought a public referendum vote into the picture.

“We have since held several conversations, legal and council members individually, in regard to the workshop not being the best way to go as too many people may call in and we’ll not accomplish anything except listening to arguments for and against,” said Dagsboro Town Administrator Cindi Brought.

She plans to poll Mayor Brian Baull and council about holding a referendum instead.

On Sept. 21, council, by a 3-1 vote, approved preliminary plans proposed by Clay Snead of Snead Property and Carlton Savage of Scaled Engineering for an upscale liquor store on Vines Creek Road.

At a special Dec. 2 meeting, council, following legal advice from town solicitor Gregory Morris, voted 4-0 to rescind its previous preliminary site-plan approval for the liquor store planned between Rosana’s Holistic Hair Salon and Heather’s Home Works, near the Route 26/20 intersection split at Armory Road.

Ciro Poppiti of Poppiti Law and Savannah Square Liquors owner Nivav Desai had objected to the proposed liquor store location on Vines Creek Road. The property is zoned town center, which at present does not permit the sale of alcoholic beverages under provisions of town zoning code.

Town survey

Council in December sought comment from residents and business owners in the district through a mailed survey.

“Residents that heard about the survey felt they should be included, and legal counsel advised that they had a right to be included in the survey should they desire,” said Ms. Brought.

“Therefore, many residents were given the survey through council members or through Town Hall. Many people have no idea whether they are in Town Center or residential districts and therefore it caused mass confusion. All Town Center businesses/residents were mailed and if they weren’t received, we have no way to track what happened once they left our hands.”

Results announced virtually Monday night revealed 87 respondents opposed changing town code to allow liquor stores in the Town Center, with 47 casted support.

“I think the results speak for themselves. I think that is all that needs to be said,” said Dagsboro councilman William Chandler III. “I don’t think there was fraud or manipulation in the voting process as is alleged in elections these days. It seems to have been a fair survey. So I think we already know what the public sentiment is.”

Others disagreed.

“I don’t believe that this survey was a fair representation vote of our town center, as I know of several businesses and residents that did not receive the survey in the mail,” said Dana Miller. “Unless you can verify that all the surveys were received, it doesn’t matter whether they filled them out. But if you can verify that they were all received, then, yes, it’s a fair representation of our community. But I just I know several of us did not receive it.”

Al Townsend, Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Department president, sided with Ms. Miller.

“We didn’t receive anything at the fire house. And that’s in the Town Center. I talked to several people along Clayton Street that never received a survey, too,” Mr. Townsend said. “So, I don’t think it got out to everybody. In my opinion, it should have gone out to everybody in the town … It affects the residents of the town, not just the Town Center.”

“I never received a notice,” said Dagsboro Councilwoman Teresa Ulrich. “I’m not sure how I feel about this, but yes I feel that we need to discuss it further with the attorney. So, I think the workshop would be good.”

“Keep in mind, this was not scientific by any means,” Mayor Baull said. “We’re not locked into it. It was just a way of us kind of getting the feel for the residents of the town center, residents in general and other folks who were interested, what their opinions were on it.”

“After hearing the few people that have said that they didn’t receive this survey and it doesn’t seem like it was a fair representation, what is the plan going forward?” said LaSonya Snead.

Council’s consensus at the close of discussion centered on a workshop. Mayor Baull said the goal is “to put it together to see if we want to do a public hearing or if there is other means that we could resolve this, maybe do a possible election.”

Now, a public vote in referendum form may be the answer.

At Monday’s meeting, Mr. Chandler, a former judge who was chancellor of the Delaware Chancery Court, suggested council put the issue on hold to allow time to “think about ways the Town Center District could be changed, if we thought that there was a justification for doing that.”

“Now, if someone doesn’t believe that the surveys were an accurate reflection of the public sentiment, then I have a different suggestion. Instead of having a public hearing, let’s have an election. Let’s convene an election at the Dagsboro Fire Hall with notice to every member of the town of Dagsboro via mail-in letter of special election on given date and time,” Mr. Chandler said. “If we are not willing to follow the survey results, then I would suggest respectfully is that we are no longer a representative democracy. So, let’s go a direct democracy.”

If town council opts for public vote in referendum, it probably could not be held until March at the earliest.

“I’m trying to get answers from the Department of Elections but no sooner than March would be my guesstimate as I need to do advertising and just setting it up – like an election – will most likely take a month,” said Ms. Brought.

Public comments

Several comments were offered virtually during public commentary at the council meeting.

Anthony Lorenz, who resides in the Woodlands of Peppers Creek, opposes the change to allow liquor stores in the Town Center District.

“I filled out the survey. I’m opposed to changing town code,” said Mr. Lorenz.

“One of the reasons we moved to the area we did was that there were no liquor stores in our immediate area. I do not feel liquor stores are essential. I’m not against new businesses. The other thing is traffic. The location, maybe if it were somewhere else, it would be OK. The location there with the shore traffic and normal traffic is horrendous. I mean we can’t even get out of our development sometimes.”

Daniel McDuffie, who has a Dagsboro address but resides out town corporate limits, supports the code change.

“I don’t know what the big deal about a liquor store would be. They are essential. They are convenient,” said Mr. McDuffie. “I just don’t know what the big issue is. I am a business owner myself and I don’t want to stop other people from trying to open up their own business. It is an upscale store. I don’t see the negativity of having a liquor store. Competition takes care of that; you’re not going to have seven liquor stores in a half-mile radius of Dagsboro.”

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