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Lawrence Lank sets sights on plan for retirement

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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P&Z director has worked for Sussex County nearly 50 years

One can only wonder how much knowledge about the inner workings of Sussex County government is contained within the brain of its planning and zoning director.

Lawrence Lank, 71, has been at it for so long, he's become more than an expert over the past 47 years. County Council President Mike Vincent, a lifelong friend and fellow member of the Seaford High School Class of 1963, calls his knowledge almost encyclopedic.

After reviewing thousands of applications, Lank now has a new plan under development-retirement after nearly a half-century of public service.

Lank will retire Dec. 1 from the position he has held since 1985, overseeing a staff of nearly a dozen employees in one of the county's highest-profile departments.

Lank's department, among other duties, oversees land use in unincorporated parts of the county, and supports county council, the planning and zoning commission and the board of adjustment as development applications work through the re-zoning, subdivision, conditional use and variance processes.

He is the longest-tenured employee in the history of county government in the modern era.

To call Lank low-key is an understatement. He was visibly embarrassed by the attention and standing ovation given to him June 14 when County Administrator Todd Lawson announced his retirement with the entire planning and zoning department in attendance.

"I want to thank all the past and present employees I've worked with. They've been family to me, just as I hope I have been like family to them," Lank said after the meeting. "I'll miss them all, and I'll miss the work, because I've really enjoyed working with the public."

A native of Seaford, Lank began his service as a draftsman in 1969-the year after Delaware shifted land-use authority to the counties, creating the need for a local zoning code and a department dedicated to implementation of the rules and regulations governing development. Since then, he has risen through the ranks, to planning technician, then assistant planning director, and finally planning director, the post he has held more than 31 years.

During his tenure, Lank has seen Sussex County transition from a mostly rural farming community and seasonal vacation destination to a highly desired second home for retirees and others drawn to all of the county's attractive attributes.

In that time, the county drafted and implemented at least six comprehensive planning documents and reviewed thousands of land-use applications for housing, commercial and industrial projects.

He recalls the building boom in the mid-2000s, which included 99 subdivision applications in 2005 and nearly 50 more applications in 2006.

"It's all we could do to keep up," he said, reflecting on the busiest time in his career. It was commonplace for applications to face up to a two-year waiting period. Times have changed-this year there have been fewer than 10 subdivision applications. But he's still busy receiving hundreds of emails and phone calls each day.

"Everyone is a little different, but they've all been easy to work with. And the public has been great to work with, too," Lank said. "Many times, people have come in to the office upset or not understanding the process. It's always been my goal to send them out, hopefully, with a smile and having a better understanding of the process."

Lank plans to enjoy his retirement golfing and working on projects around the house, for starters.

"It's a vacation he has certainly earned, no question," said County Administrator Todd Lawson. "I jokingly refer to Lawrence as the Dean of Sussex County, but that title is very fitting because it reflects his many years of service and the kind of respect and esteem he has earned in a lifetime career. He's earned every bit of it."

Vincent said the county has been fortunate over the years to have Lank for his vast, almost encyclopedic knowledge of the county zoning code, and for his guidance in steering Sussex officials through the oftentimes delicate land-use process.

"Lawrence Lank knows zoning like no one else in this county. He's literally helped write the book," Vincent said. "It is an understatement to say he has been an asset to this county. It does not begin to capture just how critical he, his knowledge and his dedication have been to the county all these years. We will miss him greatly, but we thank him for his service and wish him all the best in this well-deserved next chapter of life."

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Original Publication Date: June 17, 2016

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