Southern Delaware town embraces change as Georgetown population continues to grow

Georgetown’s growth is leading to big changes from new businesses and plans for a new highway overpass.

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Cars at the intersection of Route 113 and Route 404

The current traffic flow without the overpass, highlighting the intersection of Route 113 and 404. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

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A lot has changed in Georgetown over the past two decades. The county seat of Delaware’s southernmost Sussex County has seen its population increase about 60% since 2000. The town’s growth mirrors a burgeoning county and state population and is resulting in a number of changes, including more crowded roadways.

Glendy Vicente, a 24-year-old Latina resident, has grown up with those changes. She fondly remembers streets with farms on one side and houses on the opposite side — a typical example of the rural way of life in Georgetown.

“The last four years, I’ve seen a lot more change,” she said. “I remember growing up, there was mostly forest and fields. There have been a lot of drastic changes between when I was five to now being 24.”

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The once little town that we were, it’s now becoming a little bit more populated with businesses and people,” she said.

Delaware has been on a growing trend, with a consistent 1.2% growth rate every year. It’s the sixth-fastest growing state in the country by percent growth, according to the United States Census Bureau statistics.

In April 2020, the state’s total population stood at 989,946. By July 2022, it had risen to 1,019,459, and more recently, in 2023, the population reached 1,031,890. That’s well above the 2000 population, which stood at more than 786,000.

In April 2020, Georgetown had a population of 7,134, and as of July 2022, the population has increased to 7,662. Georgetown had just 4,798 residents in 2000.

Georgetown Mayor Bill West says the population growth and accompanying development investment is due in part to its central location in Sussex and the opportunities available for success.

“[Georgetown is] 16 miles from the beach, 16 miles from the southern end of Delaware, 16 miles from the western side of Delaware into Maryland. So we’re 16 miles from anywhere,” he said. “I’ve always been told by the people of Georgetown, ‘Our kids are moving out. There’s no jobs here,’ that ‘They’ve got to go somewhere else to get a good paying job, and there’s nothing for them here.’  Well, I tried to change that by getting the medical fields into Georgetown… to give our kids an opportunity to stay here and have a good paying job.”

Among the new businesses in Georgetown are PAM Hospital, Sun Behavioral, Beebe Hospital, hotels, and the construction of a new family court on Main Street. According to West, Chick-fil-A, Jersey Mike’s, and Popeyes are also expected to soon join the town’s business landscape.

“It’s a two-way street, that’s part of economic development,” said West. “You build and they will come, you build and people from other towns come.”

The influx of new businesses has also led to the expansion of housing options. As a result, the town has a few housing projects on its radar, with a particular focus on aiding those in need. That’s inspired by the success of initiatives like Pallet Village, a group of tiny homes providing shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

“We’re looking at some workforce housing, and we changed some coding to make them closer together so we could get more in there to make it affordable,” he said. “We’re also looking at a section of cottages. [The] small cottages would be a step up from the homeless shelter or ‘the Pallet Village.’”

Georgetown’s popularity as a stop for travelers to the coastal side of Delaware or points further south into Maryland’s Eastern Shore or even Virginia leads to occasional congestion on Route 113. To tackle this, significant roadwork is scheduled by the end of 2024, including the construction of overpasses at intersections of Route 113 and 404, as well as Route 113 and 9 in the next five years.

Cars driving on a highway
Cars driving by Route 404. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Shante Hastings, the deputy secretary and chief engineer at DelDOT, acknowledges that while they anticipate growth, it can sometimes lag behind due to its rapid pace. Nonetheless, the state will spend more than a billion dollars in Sussex County’s transportation system over the next six years.

“We’re spending about $1.3 billion dollars in Sussex County in the next six years to try and address a lot of those transportation either existing issues or future issues,” Hastings said. “We will be adding a third lane to 113 through Georgetown as well as through Millsboro because the traffic projections say that we need that, and we actually do have the space to be able to do that type of improvement.”

Other towns in the county are experiencing the impact of a growing population, too.

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“We are also in the process of building the north Millsboro bypass project. So that project connects Route 24 up to the 113 and 20 intersection,” she added. “That project is in construction now and will be open in 2025.”

A map of Delaware with upcoming road projects listed.
Here are upcoming projects set to arrive in Southern Delaware. (Couresty of DelDOT)

Although not opposed to change, residents primarily expressed concerns about the impact on the environment and the need to preserve green spaces.

“Change is good. I feel like we shouldn’t be stuck in the same mindset that we have that everything has to be a certain way. We’re growing as a whole, as a community, you know, it’s a beautiful thing,” Vicente said.

“I wish it wouldn’t affect as many trees as it is. Because you know growing up looking at the trees, it was nice,” she said. “I would want another park. I know we have a nice little park down here on Sandhill Road, but it’s sometimes overcrowded. So maybe another one would be nice that will have a long trail.”

Another Georgetown resident and a board member of the town’s public library, Susanne Laws, is not only optimistic about the anticipated changes, but excited about the future of Georgetown. Laws, who has lived in the town for six years, values the town’s ongoing efforts to strike a balance among its diverse communities.

“I would say [it] brings jobs. I think that a really important aspect of it is to try and provide that balance so that the community does thrive and doesn’t die off,” she said.

In her role as a board member at the library, Laws emphasizes the importance of community involvement. Regardless of how other communities may feel about the changes, she encourages residents to engage actively because change begins with the people.

“Your community is still your community if you live here and so to take an active role in making it better,” she said, “you utilize the resources that are here to become a library member, become somebody who advocates for good changes.”

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