Sussex County Delaware

P&Z Hears Criticism
of Land Use Plan Draft
Comprehensive Land Use Plan ...

Told First Draft Doesn't
Go Far Enough on Coast

SC Online Content Editor

Photo: Fenwick Island Vice Mayor Harry Haon presents requests for additions to the Sussex County Comprehensive Land Use Plan from the Association of Coastal Towns.

Sussex County's proposed update for its five-year-old Comprehensive Land use Plan drew criticism at a hearing on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002.

Fenwick Island Vice Mayor Harry HaonAbout 50 people attended the hearing on the draft of the land use plan before the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

Most of those who spoke out on the plan said they felt it didn't go far enough to protect the county's natural resources and quality of life in the midst of an unprecedented surge of development.

Representing the Association of Coastal Towns, Fenwick Island Vice Mayor Harry Haon presented a list of six items which the mayors of the coastal towns felt should be included in the plan. All six deal with the "environmentally sensitive district" around the Inland Bays. They had been included in public meetings during the past year, but were not included in the draft. The items are:

  • Increase buffer zone for tidal wetlands from 50 feet to 100 feet;
  • Add a 25-foot buffer zone for non-tidal wetlands;
  • Retain the existing agricultural-residential density of two units per gross acre, instead of the proposed "up-zone" to four units per residential acre;
  • Exclude non-tidal wetlands, as well as roads and tidal wetlands, from the net residential acres in a development; and
  • Require a minimum of 15 percent of the net acreage of a residential development be dedicated to open space.

Tom Shafer of Shafer Consulting, the county's consultant on the update for the land use plan, said the intent of the proposed plan is to direct growth to areas that are targeted for it. He also said the county's intent is to reduce the size of the development districts -- the areas targeted for that growth -- by 30 percent.

By reducing required lot sizes in some residential zones from 10,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet, the intent is to increase density in new developments. At the same time, the new plan would set minimum open space requirements in all residential zones.

But many of those in the audience said they felt the draft did not do all that county officials had presented at public meetings during the past 10 months.

Longtime Herring Creek environmentalist Til Purnell attacked the plan for its use of figures from 1997 -- the year it was last updated. She said the section of the plan dealing with the Inland Bays is "the most lacking in substance," of any section. "The county appears to be evading any responsibility for permitting development in unsuitable areas," she said.

Purnell also said the plan is poorly written in general. "Much of this is incomprehensible and rife with duplication." Purnell and other speakers attacked a section of the plan that indicates growth in recent years as "slight," saying anyone who believes that "is either blind or has never driven (major county roads)."

Purnell and others also said many parts of the plan are written unclearly. "It must be written with enough clarity for people both to follow it and to enforce it," she said.

Rich Collins, Lewes, representing the Positive Growth Alliance, said the plan is "a good start," but that issues such as roads need to be more aggressively addressed. "We do have serious road problems in eastern Sussex," Collins said. "Infrastructure has not kept pace with development, I believe, since the '70s."

He said he believes that despite the spike in growth in Sussex, density is still quite low in the county compared to other areas. He said, in fact, that "we have a tremendous number of people that really want higher density."

State Rep. Shirley Price, D-Millville, said she backs the Association of Coastal Towns' initiatives, and she urged the commission to consider increasing the size of the area given special consideration as environmentally sensitive. Price also said she would hope the new plan would not allow development where infrastructure is inadequate to handle it.

Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper encouraged the commission to pay more attention to groundwater protection within the draft plan. "What affects the groundwater is the use of the land," Cooper said. "I think it's not touched on enough in the plan."

Cooper also objected to what he feels is the pervading belief that the development area west of Rehoboth Beach still remains the same size, while others have shrunk. "It seemed to be slipped in there," Cooper said, adding that it seems county officials feel "that this area is already developed."

Theresa Usuki of Selbyville, president of Save Our Coastal Communities, said she is concerned with a lack information on emergency evacuation in the plan.

"There are many questions unanswered," Usuki said. "Fortunately, it's only a draft."

The record for written comments on the draft plan will be left open until Sept. 10. The commission will meet in the coming weeks and consider changes based on the public's comments. Another hearing will be held Oct. 1 -- this one before the Sussex County Council. The plan must be approved by the end of October.

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