Hudson Fields lands ‘grandfathered’ blessing from board of adjustment

MILTON — The decision was relative.

Outdoor concerts and other activities that fall under a special events umbrella may continue at Hudson Fields through grandfathering — unaffected by a Sussex County ordinance potentially looming over the horizon.

Sussex County’s Board of Adjustment May 21 by a 4-0-1 vote approved Hudson Family LLC’s request as a grandfathered nonconforming use.

The property located at Coastal Highway and Eagle Crest Road has been utilized for a variety events spanning more than four decades, well before the creation of county zoning in 1970 and subsequent county special events regulations.

“That should have been grandfathered in,” said BOA member Brent Workman. “They are still doing the same thing. I don’t see where they are out of character of what they are doing. I don’t see where anything has changed today or back then. I have no problem. I’m fine with it.”

About year ago, Sussex County Council launched discussion to consider tightening what one councilman termed a “weak” special-events ordinance for temporary mass gatherings. The most recent ordinance proposal before council would limit “special events” to no more than three in a given year.

The issue first surfaced before council May 23, 2017 when county councilman George Cole brought up a caller’s question and concerns regarding a series of spring/summer concerts planned in the Lewes/Milton area — Hudson Fields, which at one time was the staging home of Punkin Chunkin.

“A special event: At what point does it become a permanent event as opposed to being special?” said Mr. Cole.

Council has addressed the ordinance several times but not in several months.

Attorney John Paradee, counsel for Hudson Family LLC, referred to dozens of affidavits documenting the various uses of the property dating back prior to the 1970s.

“The facts are undisputed. The affidavits and all of the testimony in the record indicate that all five parcels were used for all of those uses before the code was enacted without ever intending to abandon and without ever remaining idle for two years or more,” said Mr. Paradee. “We are asking to be recognized as essentially a festival grounds that is allowed to have special events. We’re not saying it is an infinite universe. We’re saying there is use defined by your code called special events, and that’s what we are.”

“Well, I think it is a great thing that we still have this type of parcel in Sussex County,” said BOA member Ellen McGee. “It could be all houses. Or it could be a shopping center. But they are providing a service to the public that no one else has stepped up to do or has been doing.”

John Mills and J. Bruce Mears also voted in favor of the request. BOA chairman Dale Callaway abstained, saying he was “still not convinced.”

Five concerts were scheduled at Hudson Fields last year, but not all were held.

Two are slated this year: Jake Owen July 18 and award-winning Old Dominion’s return to Hudson Fields Aug. 23.

Old Dominion was named Vocal Group of the Year at the 53rd annual Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards.

Present and sworn in at the BOA meeting were brothers Christian and Jamin Hudson, owners of the property that over the years has been used for weddings, athletic activities, bands, concerts and at one time even the Punkin Chunkin extravaganza.

“It’s just not realistic that suddenly the floodgates are going open and we’re going to have 100 concerts a year there,” said Mr. Paradee.

The approximate 80-acre parcel includes a private airstrip that has commercial business.

Board of Adjustment member John Mills asked about the operations of the airport, which is not in operation 24 hours a day.

“We do own the airstrip. Planes are allowed to land even on public roads in emergencies as well,” said Christian Hudson. “We’re a private (airport) and the FAA treats that as a very unregulated thing. We don’t have a control tower. It’s not a constant monitoring situation.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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