Billboard plan dead in face of opposition

They didn’t have to bring in any extra seating, but the turnout of Fenwick Island-area residents in opposition to a billboard proposed near the town was apparently enough to influence the applicant: He signed in for the hearing before the Sussex County Board of Adjustments but left before his case was heard.

The result: automatic denial of the request by the board, due to lack of representation.

Some 35 residents had gone to Georgetown on Sept. 19 to oppose Anthony Crivella’s request to place a lighted billboard on his property adjacent Route 54, the Little Assawoman Bay and a shopping center, just across the way from the East of the Sun development.

In addition to asking to put the billboard on the wetland property, Crivella had also requested a variance to allow it to be higher than the county would normally allow.

Opponents objected to the billboard on environmental grounds and for aesthetic reasons, some saying they feared that a decision in favor of the billboard would set a precedent that would result in numerous billboards being erected on wetland properties throughout the area.

They waited through a dozen other hearings for a chance to speak or otherwise indicate their strenuous objections to that final case on the agenda, clustered in small groups, some with notes in hand for their prepared remarks to the board.

A petition bearing 205 signatures was in the hands of Vicki Carmean, a Fenwick Island Town Council member and chairwoman of the town’s Beautification Committee. Carmean also had letters from representatives of neighboring developments, representing nearly 400 additional property owners, and stating their opposition.

The councilwoman further noted that the name bringing her week’s worth of signature-gathering to its total of 205 was that of Vance Philips, the area’s representative on the Sussex County Council.

Fenwick Island itself was well represented, with the additional presence of Mayor Peter Frederick and Council Members Martha Keller (chairwoman of the town’s environmental committee) and Chris Clark.

Property owners in East of the Sun were represented in the form Marguerite Bunting, who had been spreading the word about the application in the week prior to the hearing (remarking on how it would detract from her view and her property value) and encouraging opponents to turn out en masse.

They did just that, leaving the room half-full even after all other cases had been heard. And when the board called Crivella to present his case, no one rose or otherwise presented themselves on his behalf.

The opponents whispered in hopeful confusion, their conversation gradually rising in a crescendo that forced the board to call for order as the case was called a second time. Still no one presented themselves on its behalf.

Amidst increasing discussion from the gallery, board members voted to deny Crivella’s two requests related to the billboard. They were joined in their ayes by a chorus of increasingly jubilant opponents, necessitating a second vote to isolate the voices of the board members. It was unanimous.

The crowd rejoiced and trickled from the room, most still showing both surprise and delight at the result of their battle. One opponent quickly checked the hearing’s sign-in sheet to verify that Crivella had signed in for the hearing — he had, but he had apparently left at some point after the hearing had begun.

Above his name on the page were numerous signatures that not only indicated the signatories were present for the Board of Adjustments hearing that night but specifically for Case No. 9233.

It was a clear sign of the likely fate of the petition, and seemingly enough of one to derail it before it was even formally heard.

Despite the successful outcome for the opponents, once outside the council chambers, Carmean and Keller conferred with their compatriots and an attorney present for another case. They were concerned that Crivella might renew his request at a future date, hoping it would escape notice and garner less opposition at a future hearing.

With the record of the current hearing closed without the letters of opposition, petition and in-person comments presented and entered, they feared they’d have to start over were the billboard applied for again.

That may be so, but they’re planning to retain those hard-earned bits of paper, just in case. And they will be keeping their eyes peeled for any announcements related to the issue, the better to organize their opposition once again, should the need arise.

Crivella was not available for comment.