Sussex County Delaware

County P&Z Moves
Forward on CLUP
Sussex Planning Commission

Reaches Consensus on
Some Coastal Requests

SC Online Publisher

The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission reached a consensus on a couple of issues regarding the 2002 update to the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan during a lengthy meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002.

In discussing requests from state Rep. Shirley Price and the Association of Coastal Towns, planners reached a consensus to lower permissible densities in the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area and to evaluate an increase in wetlands buffers.

They also agreed that golf courses should still be included in density calculations for proposed developments.

Planning Chairman Lawrence Lank cautioned, however, that planners still haven't reached any final conclusions for their recommendations to county council.

"I don't know 100 percent that this is what they will do," said Lank of the planners' decisions Wednesday night.

Lank said the commission will meet again on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 6 p.m. in council chambers to discuss other issues and re-visit the decisions they reached Wednesday night.

Lank said the commission hopes to finalize its recommendations before council holds a public hearing on the revised plan on Oct. 1. If it doesn't finalize its recommendations on Sept. 19, Lank said it will meet again on Sept. 26.

Even when planners do compile the addendums to the current draft of the 2002 update, council could reject or accept any or all of the planners' recommendations.

In fact, planning chairman John Allen alluded to that possibility during the meeting.

"In the last land use plan (1997), we made 12 suggestions and council accepted one," said Allen. "Percentage-wise, that's pretty low in my estimation."

Planners spent most of Wednesday's meeting discussing requests from Price and A.C.T., an orgaization of mayors from Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Fenwick Island, Henlopen Acres, Lewes, Ocean View, Rehoboth Beach and South Bethany.

Those areas have felt the brunt of the impact of the county's building boom in the past five years with the designation of those municipalities and surrounding areas as Development Districts in the 1997 plan.

The result has been development that has far outpaced the available infrastructure, most notably state highways and roads, and has overcrowded public beaches and waterways.

One of the most confusing portions of the first draft of the 2002 update regarded density. During public presentations over the winter, county staff presented recommendations that gross density in the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area be no more than 2 units per acre.

In the first draft, however, an item was added allowing clustering for up to 4 units per acre based on net residential acreage. The result was that a 100-acre property could be eligible for 200 units gross density, or 300 units net residential density if it contained 75 net residential acres.

"I don't think that was the intent," said Lank of the potential for getting more units from net residential acreage than gross acreage.

Instead, planning consultant Tom Schafer suggested that the planners consider a density package in the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area that would allow 2 units per acre after removing wetlands but permitting clustering on smaller lots while not exceeding the gross density of 2 units per acre.

That, Lank said, would result in 200 units on a 125-acre parcel with 25 acres of wetlands that could be clustered on to smaller lots to create more open space. Lank added that roads would no longer be deleted from the density calculations.

As for wetlands, the commission stopped short of recommending an increase in the buffer zone for tidal wetlands from 50 feet to 100 feet or for a 25-foot buffer for non-tidal wetlands. Instead, it agreed that language in the plan should say that those options should be evaluated as ordinances are drafted to implement the new plan.

"Are we losing any developable land at 100 feet?" asked Allen. "I don't think so."

Lank informed planners that the public comment period for the updated plan expired at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 10. Planners received several letters before the comment period ended, including a letter from A.C.T. reiterating its requests and one from the Sussex County Association of Realtors, which believes golf courses and wetlands should be included in density calculations, even in the environmentally sensitive area.

Planners were not at all receptive to a request from A.C.T. that golf courses be removed from gross density calculations.

"They still think of golf courses as open space," said Lank.

There was also quite a bit of discussion on the size of the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area and why, if the goal was to protect environmentally sensitive lands, the plan's maps don't include Route 1 from Lewes to Slaughter Beach and Indian River up to Millsboro.

County Administrator Robert L. Stickels said those areas weren't included because the state has no plans to spend on infrastructure in those areas and that federal funding would not be available for road and sewer improvements in those areas.

Stickels also cautioned planners that one of the key words in the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Areas concept is "developing", and that it could be interpreted that any parcel within the ESDA is intended to be developed.

Because of that, he said those extended areas would be better protected under existing AR-1 zoning.

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