Town hall meeting held to discuss growth in Harrington

HARRINGTON — “I just wanted to point out a little bit the kind of serious situation in Harrington we’re in,” Harrington resident Elizabeth Brode began when addressing -group of more than 25 during a town hall meeting Wednesday, Feb. 17.

“South Elementary School receives 100 percent free meals because our town is below poverty level now. Breakfast, lunch and after school [are provided]. That’s what our town is classified as. We’re in -situation that we have to do something. We need better. Because it’s -little embarrassing, shocking. We’re not going to get more money; we’re just going to get free lunches,” she continued.

 Residents, business owners, builders, contractors and city officials gathered for a town hall meeting Wednesday, Feb. 17 to discuss promoting growth in Harrington. The Journal/ Jennifer Antonik

Residents, business owners, builders, contractors and city officials gathered for a town hall meeting Wednesday, Feb. 17 to discuss promoting growth in Harrington. The Journal/ Jennifer Antonik

Those in attendance included residents, builders, contractors, business owners and city officials hoping to discuss promoting growth in the town of about 3,500 residents.

Councilmember Amy Minner, who requested the meeting, said, “We all want the same goal and that goal is to move Harrington forward so that we can get businesses here and houses built. Tonight is the night that we can start this.”

Impact fees

Out of those who took the opportunity to speak out either during the meeting or through letters read into the record by Mayor Moyer, many spoke of the high costs of impact fees and permits in Harrington.

Darrin Simpson of Blue Hen Construction said he found the total cost of a permit in Harrington to be $12,872 for the average home currently constructed in Harrington.

The cost in nearby Greenwood for the same permit is nearly $9,500 lower, he added, with the cost in Milford at around $8,500. Felton was at more than $9,300. These fees included the permit fee, sewer and water impact fees and initial electric service setup.

Mr. Simpson suggested reducing property taxes and beginning -working group through the city to help address the concerns of residents, builders and others in related fields. He also suggested reducing transfer taxes for first time home buyers, adding incentives to impact fees and looking at the site plan review process.

For some, like Richard Wheeler, the site plan review process and impact fees are nothing less than daunting.

Mr. Wheeler attended the meeting representing The Legacy, a 389 unit development with about 101 acres.

“We [began] in 2008. We finally got preliminary plan approval in 2015.

Seven years. That’s S-E-V-E-N years. There’s blame everywhere,” he began.

Despite having no intentions of building actual homes in the development, Mr. Wheeler said his group was still required to provide building plans for houses in order to get land approved.

He said, “The architect came back to us time after time and said there are no standards in Harrington. What we’re running into now is, very simply, impact fees. We’ve been told multiple times, even by our realtor, that impact fees are having a direct impact on marketing.”

Continuing, he added, “It’s where are you, what’s around you, what can you offer… Retirees need something in the area. Working people need jobs in the area. If we don’t have those near, which I have to say we don’t, we can’t have one of the highest impact fees in the area. I think we really need to address what we hear from our marketing people, bottom line: impact fees.”

Growth through aesthetics

Jefrey Bowers of The Bowers Group based out of Harrington told attendees a different story.

“Last Thursday, a lady came into our office to buy one of our homes. She lives and works in Harrington. About five minutes into our conversation, she said, ‘Jeff, I don’t want to live in Harrington.’ So I said, ‘Well, why?’ She said, ‘It’s dumpy.’ The reason rather hurt me guys because that’s what I do. I take ugly places and make it look nice,” he recalled.

Mr. Bowers hopes to see the town improve property values, increase homeownership and remove eyesores.

“When you’re talking about growth, the growth can’t happen without investment,” he added. “We’re not going to go into a town if we can’t get a return investment.”

Compared to homes in Felton, Milford and Seaford, he said homes in Harrington are frequently appraised at 15-20 percent lower than houses in those other areas.

“That’s an issue,” he said.

Issues such as “residents parking in yards and non- designated parking areas” and homes with “more furniture on the porches than inside the houses” hurts appraisal values of homes in the town.

Proactive positive and strict code enforcement would go a long way in helping reduce “eyesores,” he said.

“In Salisbury, they [volunteers] pick out positive things and they come alongside code enforcement officers. It doesn’t cost the town a dime. They hand out friendly letters, atta-boys. For example, they sent Five- Guys a letter thanking them for coming to town and helping with a dilapidated shopping center,” he said.

According to Mr. Bowers, homeownership would then increase as well as businesses looking to move into town. Residents will take pride in their community, which will result in less crime and code enforcement issues. Property values and the median income will also rise.

“Guys, there’s no one in this room more poor than my grandfather was and he always said, ‘It doesn’t cost us one more penny to be clean than it does being dirty,’” he explained. “It doesn’t cost us anything; that’s my point.”

Councilmember Wayne Porter agreed, saying many areas in town are poorly maintained. According to Mr. Porter, about 65 percent of Harrington is made up of renters with many of the landlords residing outside of the city.

“That’s the problem of Harrington. Our percentage of renters has gone up. We need to go up in homeowners,” he said.

Other attendees suggested assistance through the Delaware Economic Development Office and better customer service.

“ You have my commitment that I’m not going to let it drop,” Mayor Moyer said at the close of the meeting. “I don’t think the rest of this council is going to. Your goals are the same as our goals.”

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