Substation landscaping no trivial matter
Sussex County's Board of Adjustment, with little discussion, approved a zoning variance request this week from Delmarva Power for its electric substation on Route 1 near Lewes. The company is upgrading the facility for a growing area.
The substation occupies a large site, greater than five acres, just east of the Dartmouth Drive Wawa. The variance requested gives Delmarva Power the right to forgo landscaping and buffers required by Sussex zoning for such installations. Company officials said previously the landscaping and buffers cause root problems and obstruct visibility, which can create a security issue. Reliable electrical service and security are important, but that doesn't mean the board of adjustment should rubber-stamp such requests without due consideration.
Zoning requirements are enacted for reasons.
Substations aren't the most attractive architectural features in any landscape. But along the main highway - the main street for Delaware's Cape Region - a substation without landscaping and buffering will stand out as even more unattractive juxtaposed to nearby commercial operations that have spent significantly to make their areas look nice.
It's not like the location for this substation is out in the middle of nowhere, where it would be especially vulnerable from a security standpoint. This is on one of the most visible locations along the coast, seen by hundreds of thousands of eyes daily. It will become even more visible when an adjacent road serving Wawa and Lefty's is constructed to help ease the congested Dartmouth Drive and Route 1 intersection.
Delmarva Power has the resources to come up with a landscaping and buffering scheme that could help ease the industrial appearance while maintaining visibility for security. Well-placed and -selected plantings would help meet the spirit of the zoning requirements if not the exact letter of them. The organic green texture of plantings chosen intelligently by horticultural designers would soften the harsh visual impact of gray steel transformers, fences, wires and other electrical equipment.
Delmarva Power should be a good corporate neighbor and not take its variance approval as a sanction to do nothing. It should make its expanded facility as attractive as possible within security limitations.