Lewes Harbor. Photo by Lisa Tossey
In a September 2007 New York Times travel article about Lewes, Del., author Fred Bierman wrote that the town “has so far resisted touristy kitsch, somehow retaining its easy charm and friendly mid-Atlantic vibe, complete with long vowels, rustling corn fields, and a dreamy slow pace.”
But how can Lewes, which saw a 36 percent population increase between 1990 and 2005, ensure this idyllic description fits 10 years from now? Delaware Sea Grant and the Greater Lewes Foundation recently teamed up to help Lewes envision its future, with hopes the city can help not only maintain its character but also the quality of life residents have come to expect.
Through a project known as FutureScan, the groups talked to stakeholders across the city to get their opinions on the challenges and opportunities that Lewes and the region will face through 2017. The result of the project was to develop action items the city can undertake to help preserve its core values, things like its historic relationship with the sea and its busy days and quiet nights.
“We are going from here, what we have today, to what we want in the future,” said Jim Falk, director of Delaware Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Service and the project’s coordinator. “It’s difficult to do that unless you know what people are thinking today.”
The FutureScan project began in 2007 with interviews of community leaders such as city officials, business owners, and key service providers such as the library and local post office. Then, in early 2008, a group of more than 50 community leaders from government, housing, transportation, education, and the environment got together to discuss the critical issues facing Lewes.
Next, the FutureScan team turned to Lewes residents for their opinions. The team held public meetings in April and June of 2008. The more than 140 residents who attended the meetings had the opportunity to react to a series of questions using hand?held polling system devices to record their responses.
On the table during discussions with community leaders as well as citizens were issues such as transportation, adequacy and access to services such as the local hospital, affordable housing, and jobs. People also had a chance to give their opinions on issues related to annexation, population growth, and taxes.
“The Lewes community is fortunate to have many natural and historic features that make it a place of distinction,” Falk said. “The local residents who enjoy the small town quality of life and the visiting tourists who help maintain the economy all appreciate these important assets and no doubt consider them crucial to the communities’ long term vitality.”
Since gathering information from stakeholders, Falk and his collaborators have created a final report that synthesizes factual information they gathered along with the community input. Based on that information the report names nine action items and issues that should be addressed for public and private action. Among those projects are protecting open space, improving transportation, and creating a plan to address the city’s ability to conserve resources and improve environmental well-being with regard to climate change.
Those action items together with the report will influence the next planning step for Lewes. That phase will involve working with a community planning firm that will recommend the housing units, commercial square footage, jobs, basic services, road network, open space, and other amenities needed for the city’s growing population.
Falk will continue to participate in the process, this time in an advisory role.
FutureScan was supported by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, and additional support has been provided from Delaware Sea Grant and the University of Delaware’s Coastal Community Enhancement Initiative.
For more on Delaware Sea Grant, visit www.deseagrant.org.