Proponents of a shelter for women veterans have received approval for their project, but that consent came with several restrictions that did little to relieve the anger of area residents opposed to the project.
The vote to allow a special use exception for the women's home at 6377 Griffith Lake Road, near Milford, came Monday night before the Sussex County Board of Adjustments. The board had to approve a special dispensation for the home because it is in an area dominated by single family homes.
The 3 – 2 vote came at about 10:45 p.m. after the audience of more than 80 people had sat through approximately two-and-a-half hours of testimony on 11 other, unrelated projects and an hour's discussion on the project's pros and cons among the board members.
The application now goes to the Sussex County Attorney for review. After the attorney renders a final decision, opponents then have 30 days to appeal the decision.
The veterans' home is a project of Home of the Brave, which for more than 20 years has operated a similar men-only facility several miles away from the women's shelter site. Home of the Brave Foundation officials have said Delaware is the only state without a shelter for homeless women veterans.
Board members, who heard arguments for and against the project at its March 4 session, twice put off a decision so they could have enough opportunity to study the project. Additional public input at Monday's meeting was not permitted.
Opposition came primarily from homeowners along Griffith Lake Road, a rural area approximately four miles from downtown Milford. Many testified that while they supported military veterans and said indigent women veterans should be helped, they did not want such a facility in their neighborhood.
Most cited concerns about a possible rise in crime and vandalism, worries about how residents in the home would be controlled, the effect of the home on local property values and possible overcrowding in the home.
Board Vice Chairman John M. Mills and board member E. Brent Workman cited those reasons and other objections while siding with the homeowners in voting against the proposal.
Board member Norman C. Rickard was the most outspoken proponent of the project, saying Home of the Brave deserved the same chance to help women veterans as they have their male counterparts. Due to the massive amounts of publicity and the money already spent on the project, it was in the Home of the Brave Foundation's best interests to ensure the project succeeds, Rickard said.
Fellow board member Jeffrey M. Hudson generally concurred, and made the motion to approve the special use exception.
Hudson's motion, however, contained two major restrictions, added to address the fears of those living near the facility.
Page 2 of 2 - The first restricts the number of persons living in the home to eight. The initial plan called for housing up to six women and their children, although the number of children never was specified in that proposal.
The second requires the Home of the Brave Foundation to come back before the board in two years to justify a second special use exemption. The Foundation's record on running the home would be reviewed at that time.
Hudson also suggested those living nearby become involved with administration of the home as one way to resolve the concerns they raised during the hearing process.
Board Chairman Dale A. Callaway cast the deciding vote in favor of the exemption with applause breaking out as he announced the final tally.
A number of those opposed to the project complained about the decision as they left the hearing chamber, but none would go on the record regarding the outcome of the night's session. Several said they would work to reverse the board's judgment, while one woman said she planned to install "No Trespassing" signs and security cameras and would document any infractions at the veterans' home.
The facility is undergoing renovations, and should be open by early July.