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Sussex introduces new special-events ordinance

Public hearing expected in late October
Hudson Fields, which has been used by a variety of groups for more than five decades, found itself in the middle of a debate about the county’s special-events ordinance. Elected officials are now rewriting those rules. RON MACARTHUR PHOTOS
October 7, 2017

Sussex County officials have taken the first step to clarify rules regarding special events.

County Attorney Vince Robertson introduced a revised ordinance for special events Oct. 3, offering guidance for Sussex Countians hosting carnivals, concerts, festivals and races, and other one-time events held in unincorporated areas of the county.

The ordinance comes several months after Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, questioned whether a summer concert series at Hudson Fields was a more permanent affair than events previously covered by a special-events policy and permit from the county’s planning and zoning office.

The revision presented at the first October council meeting would limit a specific parcel to no more than three special-event days in a calendar year. The limit does not include the time it takes to set up or break down.

“It's a balanced, basic approach with a more defined set of review criteria,” Robertson said. The proposed ordinance allows the planning and zoning director to consider how many people will attend the event, the size of the property where it will be held, parking and traffic concerns, hours of operation, and noise, light, odor and dust issues when deciding whether to approve an administrative special-events permit.

If the director does not approve a permit, the event organizer would have to seek a conditional use or appeal the decision to the county board of adjustment, Robertson said.

The proposed ordinance would also require county staff to develop a special-events application form, which Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, suggested could be attached to the parcel through the county's website so residents and neighbors could review the plans online.

“Today we're not debating any changes other than having this introduced,” he clarified.

Councilman I.G. Burton, R-Lewes, said the new ordinance supports special events without requiring a permanent zoning change for parcels used for special events.

“This is an ordinance for all of Sussex County,” he said. “We currently have a code for the special-use permit – it's outlived its effectiveness. It was flawed from the beginning. The code needs to be made clear, understandable and enforceable.”

Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson said specific details, such as the public availability of a special-events application, need to be ironed out during the public hearing process.

Lawson said he expects a planning and zoning commission hearing to be held in late October, followed by a council public hearing in November.