Sussex County Delaware

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Council Approves
Land Use Plan, 3-2

SC Online Content Editor

GEORGETOWN -- After dozens of meetings, stacks of testimony and hours of debate, Sussex County Council approved a new Comprehensive Land Use Plan on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2002.

The council was split on the merits of the new plan, with Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, and George Cole, R-Cedar Neck, voting against it.

Despite the input of county residents from farmers to environmentalists to developers during meetings spanning more than a year, Phillips said that in the midst of the final public hearing on the plan last week, he felt "the deal was already cut," and that the public was "there to be indoctrinated."

Phillips blamed the approval process imposed by the state planning office for this.

Cole said "a lot of good suggestions were made and they were rejected." He said the council's embrace of the term "smart growth" was "deceptive." Cole also criticized what he called the council's "pie in the sky optimism" regarding the future of public transportation in Sussex County.

But Cole reserved his strongest objections for the parts of the plan dealing with the area surrounding the Inland Bays, known in the plan as the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area. He said the new plan doesn't do enough to protect farmland, or the environmentally sensitive areas around the bays.

"The rural areas of this county will suffer," under the new plan, Cole said. "This plan, for the most part, is dumb growth."

Cole also criticized the state's planning initiatives. "Livable Delaware is making Sussex County unlivable," he said. Livable Delaware is a piece of legislation, unveiled by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in March 2001, to "focus development in and around existing communities."

The council itself came under fire by Cole. "I have very little confidence in this council's ability to follow through," with effective ordinances to support the plan, he said.

But the remainder of the council expressed confidence in the new plan. Dale Dukes, D-Laurel, said that while "this plan will not meet everybody's expectations," he thinks it's better than the last one, which was approved in 1997.

"I think that we've made great improvements in Sussex County," Dukes said.

Council member Lynn Rogers, D-Milton, also said the plan is better than the previous one. "I feel that the last plan was far from being perfect. There were a lot of gray areas," Rogers said.

"This is a better plan," said council president Finley Jones.

The plan's approval follows a series of meetings held throughout the county last year, and several rounds of public hearings before the council and the county Planning and Zoning Commission. Unlike most of those meetings, the council's final vote on the plan was held in a nearly empty council chambers.

Before voting on the final plan, the council reviewed a handful of suggested changes that were discussed at the last hearing. They rejected 3-2 a change, requested by the Association of Coastal Towns, that would have tightened restrictions in the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area.

They approved a minor change suggested by Rich Collins of the Positive Growth Alliance in wording regarding rural community districts, and another change Collins suggested regarding limiting entrances to commercial areas.

Other suggested changes will be addressed during the next 18 months as the council hammers out ordinances to support the new plan.

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