Coastal Moose to get go-ahead on location

An application for a new lodge location for the Loyal Order of Moose Inc., East Sussex Lodge #2542, received preliminary approval recommendations from the county’s Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) on April 7.

The lodge currently meets in a location owned by state Rep. Gerald Hocker, on his property at the intersection of Routes 26 and 17. Members also hold fund-raising activities at the Millville fire hall, the only facility available that is large enough to accommodate such events, according to Bob Dennis, a lodge member and project coordinator.

The lodge building technically operates as a private club, offering both a family center and an on-site bar that caters to lodge members and their guests. It is one of the main fund-raising methods of the lodge, which takes its profits from operation of the family center and uses them for a variety of charitable causes, Dennis said.

Other fund-raising efforts include pit-beef barbecue sales and occasional meals offered to the public. Dennis, an Ocean View resident, told commissioners the lodge had contributed more than $25,000 to charity in a recent six-month period, in addition to numerous hours of volunteer time.

Dennis noted that the need for the lodge to obtain a home of its own had drastically increased in recent years. Lodge #2542 was organized in 1999, drawing an initial response of approximately 120 members. But it has since expanded to include more than 500 members and a 200-member ladies’ auxiliary.

Beyond the social aspect of bringing members and guests together at the facility, Moose members pointed to the international organization’s focus on family and children. Indeed, they said activities that include children are required of the lodge by the overseeing national organization, which also must approve all fund-raising events.

Mark Phelps, who said he had originally helped organize the new lodge, said members’ charitable efforts had also focused on children, including a youth awareness program, scholarships and a children’s golf program. They also have contributed to local fire and ambulance companies, as well as organizing a dinner-dance benefit for a local child afflicted with a brain tumor, he said.

The 4-acre parcel the Moose have targeted for their new home lies off Road 365 and Road 365B, outside of the town limits of Ocean View and Frankford, near Route 17 and Peppers Corner Road.

Neighboring property owner Elisa Ziff said she objects to the lodge’s proposed location, particularly noting what she viewed as incompatibility with the surrounding properties — her chicken farm and a pig farm. She said she was concerned that building the lodge there would result in complaints from lodge members about her “normal farm operations,” pointedly referring to the lodge’s membership — primarily residents of Ocean View and Bethany Beach.

Ziff said she felt sorry for the Moose members because she knew they had long been looking for a property in the area, “but this is not the right property. You don’t stick a bar between a pig farm and a chicken farm,” she said

Though she does not live on the farm property, Ziff also pointed to concerns about resulting increase in traffic on the roads (which she said were in poor condition), the potential for drivers leaving the lodge late at night after drinking and her own safety when checking on her chickens late at night.

Ziff noted that the lodge maintains a number of slot machines at the existing lodge home, a target for break-ins, she said. She also complained that the lack of a standing police force in the area to enforce drinking and driving safety issues.

Further, Ziff said she was skeptical about the lodge’s ability to provide sufficient septic on the site, due to problems with flooding. “The only area that is high and dry on the property,” she said, was the area directly opposite the ventilation fans at her chicken houses, overlooking her manure shed.

At its base, she said, the planned club was out of character with and not of benefit to the neighborhood, and might decrease property values.

But if the commissioners were to recommend approval, Ziff said, she would request a number of constraints on its construction and operation: no weekday operations, earlier hours on weekends, a 5-foot fence around the property, septic capacity for three times the existing membership, drainage for 4 inches of rain, security personnel to be hired, no setback variances, and a signed agreement that members would not trespass on her property or make complaints about her normal farming practices.

Ziff also championed a traffic light at Route 17 and Peppers Corner Road.

Commissioners made some concessions to Ziff’s concerns in recommending approval for the application, requiring a 6-foot vinyl-screened fence to run along adjoining property lines and that fund-raisers be conducted from inside the building to avoid complaints about the farm operations. The plan will also carry a notation about the existing agricultural uses of the neighboring properties.

But in the end, commissioners agreed that the project would not have a negative impact on the surrounding properties and was in character with most lodge locations – outside towns and in the country, where land values are lower. Ziff, they said, would not be as badly affected as she might have been were she living on the property.

To allow for existing club operations, as well as brunch fund-raisers, commissioners established operating hours for the club of 11 a.m. to midnight on Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 8 a.m. to midnight on Sunday.

Commission Chairman John Allen did express concerns that the project might go the way of the Moose’s Milford lodge, where, he said, funds ran out before the completion of the building’s floor and promises of financial support from the national organization had not come to fruition.

Phelps said the national organization would support this lodge’s construction. He said the timetable for beginning construction was approximately three months, with operation to begin in 12 to 18 months.

Commissioner Robert Wheatley abstained from participating in the discussion and vote on the lodge’s application.

Also at the April 7 meeting, commissioners:

• Recommended approval of a conditional-use application by Regina A. O’Rourke to place a multi-family dwelling on her property (AR-1 zoning) just outside incorporated Ocean View. O’Rourke said she wanted to use an existing building on the property to create a “mother-in-law” apartment for her daughter’s use, with no change to the footprint.

Commissioners expressed concern that the conditional use would be used more extensively by a future owner of the property but noted support from a neighbor and a lack of comment from Ocean View officials.

The conditional use was unanimously approved with the conditions that no condominium documents be drawn up for the project, no additions be made to the existing footprint of the buildings, and that O’Rourke be encouraged to connect to the county sewer as soon as possible.

• Unanimously recommended approval for parcels and a 50-foot right-of-way on the 4.33-acre property of Richard and Sonya West off Route 17 and Road 370A. A 60-foot easement will provide access to three lots at the rear of the property. A 15-foot road currently provides access to an airstrip on the property.