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Eastern Sussex Growth

Introduction

The Vollmer family is anxiously awaiting the end of April.

That is when their beachfront home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., will be complete. And it’s not just any home. It’s a mansion, to say the least. More than a year ago, the family started building their Southern-style brick house with custom dental moldings. The house is now ready for the family to move in it.

“We are constructing our oceanfront dream home after finally being able to purchase an oceanfront lot during the recession a few years ago,” Saralynn Vollmer said. “We love the beach; we wanted a home here.”

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The Vollmer family’s newly constructed home in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

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Oceanfront deck on the Vollmer family’s new home

So why this beach? Lou Vollmer, president of Iroko Pharmaceuticals, and Saralynn, a busy stay-at-home wife, along with Cally, their 24-year-old daughter, have fond memories of laugh-filled beach days and flounder fishing at Massey’s Ditch. But those pastimes are not the only draw.

“Historically, it has always been good until the crash,” Vollmer said. “The cost of living is less expensive, especially for a beach town, compared to New Jersey and New York.”

The Vollmers are one of many who have flocked to eastern Sussex County — an area growing in population every year.

Area Expansion

In 2014,  Sussex County had an estimated population of 210,849 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was a 7 percent increase from 2010, when the county population was estimated at 197,145. Census numbers show that in 2000, Sussex County had a population of 156,638 people. That means that in just a 10-year span, Sussex County experienced a nearly 26 percent increase in population.

Eastern Sussex towns and cities such as Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island, represent a significant percentage of the county’s growth.

Eugene Bayard is a native Delawarean and a lawyer with the Morris James law firm in Georgetown, Del. He said he grew up visiting eastern Sussex County.

“What I noticed when I was 2-years-old was that I had fun at the beach,” Baynard said. “As I grew up, I got to know the area and fell in love with it.”

Baynard said his love of the beach and eastern Sussex County led him to move there as an adult.

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Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk

Eastern Sussex County has distinct advantages that business owners are also very keen to acknowledge.

“Rehoboth and our area has the unique advantage of having a shoreline and a serious attraction for tourists,” said Alyssa Titus, owner of Azura Clothing, retail store in downtown Rehoboth Beach. “Since the decade-and-a-half I have been here, our area has flourished and grown. We continue to see an influx of year-round residents, which enables businesses to take a more year-round approach to retail, which is certainly a shift from the typical seasonal beach store mentality.”

Titus also pointed out another obvious draw to the county for residents and tourists alike: Delaware has no sales tax.

“Delaware is extremely tax-friendly, which attracts many retirees and even young families who like the idea of a small town atmosphere,” she said.

Eastern Sussex County’s population growth has been very obvious to Baynard. He pointed out that further growth occurred several years ago after the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control decided there were too many septic systems in the Inland Bays watershed and the county agreed to build a sewer network.

Jim Cassidy, a program manager with DNREC, said he has seen that growth too. He believes the sewer network made growth more palatable for environmental reasons.

“On-site wastewater enables development in areas that wouldn’t necessarily have sewers,” Cassidy said.

The lesson it taught is that sewer begets development. Jim Cassidy, DNREC Program Manager

“What happened is when sewer lines were laid, developers saw an opportunity and came in and picked up farmland between Rehoboth and Five Points and in not very much time, what were open farm fields were now parking lots and commercial buildings,” Cassidy said. “The lesson it taught is that sewer begets development.”

Development is the right word. Eastern Sussex went from mostly “mom and pop shops” to shopping galore; a prime example being the Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach. Bayard also noted the medical boom brought in by Beebe Medical Center.

Traffic Concerns

Drew Boyd, director of planning for the Delaware Department of Transportation, acknowledges that the year-round approaches to Sussex County’s seasonal area leads to massive congestion, especially since Route 1 is the only major road through the eastern part of the county.

The level of intensity of development we weren't able to predict. So if you were to look at our estimates, we undershot. Drew Boyd, DELDOT Director of Planning

Boyd said DelDOT performed a traffic study for eastern Sussex in the 1990s, and another in 2003. He noted that researchers noticed a change in the demographics. They found more and more retirees were moving to the area, with more coming earlier, and staying longer.

However, even with this study’s findings in hand, Boyd admits keeping up with the growth is not always easy.

“The level of intensity of development we weren’t able to predict,” he said. “So if you were to look at our estimates, we undershot.”

So what is being done to deal with the growing traffic?

“Ultimately, we need to be poised to provide more public transportation because as these people get older they can’t drive, but will still need to be able to get around,” Boyd said. “We kind of see that coming, understanding that we’re not going to be able to support the demographic.”

However, while DelDOT deals with roads and public transportation, land use comes down to county planners. The state gives all three counties full responsibility to develop their own rules and regulations. DelDOT does have a role in the process, but the two are separate.

Similar to DelDOT, from Sussex County’s perspective, growth is very much recognized and valued. In the county comprehensive plan, updated most recently in 2014, careful future land use is of the utmost importance, specifically in eastern Sussex.

“While many large developments are proposed in the central and western parts of the county, the majority of the new home construction continues to occur in the areas closest to the inland bays and the coastal communities,” the comprehensive plan states.

I think that part of the charm of the county has been lost. Eugene Bayard, Eastern Sussex Resident

A prime example of this is that four Sussex County tax assessment districts accounted for 51 percent of all residential building permits issued from 2003 through 2006, and all four were coastal towns.

While people like Bayard have recognized the value of growth in eastern Sussex County, he also points out how it has transformed the area.

“I think that part of the charm of the county has been lost,” Bayard said. “If I had my druthers, I like it the old way, but there are advantages that I have to acknowledge.”

About the Author

Lindsay Tuchman joined the WBOC News team in December 2013 as a videojournalist out of the station’s Milton, Del., bureau. She graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication Journalism in May 2013. At USC, Lindsay worked as a reporter for Annenberg TV News. Her most memorable story was reporting live as President Barack Obama was reelected on Election Night 2012. She has also interned at CNN Los Angeles as well as KCBS/KCAL in Los Angeles in the investigative unit. Lindsay was born in New York City but raised in Atlanta. Besides being a news junkie, Lindsay’s interests include fashion, skiing, food and traveling. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayTuchman

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