Sussex County Council's recently passed ordinance to give developers more time to start their projects – allowing building on nearly 18,000 lots in more than 125 developments.
“Can you imagine what the county would look like if this was all built?” asked Sussex County Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach. “Farmland would be the only open space left.”
Deaver said she's confident some of the projects that have struggled to get off the ground will proceed because of the extension, the second blanket reprieve granted by county council.
Many projects were shelved because of the economy; they date back to the time just after the housing bubble collapsed.
Approved subdivisions, residential planned communities and conditional-use projects will automatically have until until Jan. 1, 2016, to get underway. The ordinance is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013, when a previous extension expired.
Permits for as many as 100 subdivisions, 49 conditional-use projects and 16 residential-planned- community projects were set to expire this year, said Lawrence Lank, director of county planning and zoning.
Deaver was the lone council member to vote against a second reprieve for developers. During the discussion at the January meeting she called the three-year extension a gift from government. “This would mean plans from six, seven and eight years ago could go forward when there have been so many changes and better ways to design communities,” she said.
Deaver says she is still convinced economic factors and not time extensions should dictate the fate of projects. “This is not what we need to do,” she said. “These projects are going to be built or not be built. It makes you wonder why we have sunsets at all.”
Deaver said she is not against growth but growth requires better planning. “There is no coordination in the county. At some point we will have to come to terms with this. Developers have grown to love county council,” she said.
The county has been without a certified planner for more than three years.
Deaver also said county council should not be making certain land-use decisions. For example, she said, the county should already have commercial zoning in place instead of having to decide on piece-meal zoning changes and conditional-use applications. Most of the county's land is zoned AR-1 for agricultural and residential uses.
Under the county's system, subdivision applications are approved by the county planning and zoning commission and not county council.
The extension requests came to council from the Sussex County Economic Action Committee. Board member Joe Conaway, a former county administrator, said allowing more time for developers to clear the permitting process would help stimulate more building in the county. He admitted that not all projects would proceed but those that are would benefit from more time.
Projects receive preliminary site-plan approval from planning and zoning, but final approval can only be approved when all permits have been acquired.
Lank's office recently released an updated list of projects affected by the time-extension ordinance. On the list are 107 approved conditional-use applications filed since 2006. Projects on the drawing board include multifamily housing, warehouses, office buildings, equestrian centers, borrow pits, several water and sewer facilities, storage buildings, medical offices, a campground, fire station, yoga studio, private school and even a hot dog vendor.
Forty-one of the more than 100 approved subdivisions – with about a third of the 10,000 approved lots – are in Deaver's 3rd Councilmanic District. Projects date back to 2003 and 2004.
In addition, 23 residential-planned communities with more than 7,500 lots dating back to 2005 are on the list; more than 3,800 lots are in Deaver's district.
BY THE DISTRICT
District 1 (Mike Vincent): 17 subdivisions with 1,674 lots; one residential-planned community with 140 lots. Total lots – 1,814.
District 2 (Sam Wilson): 15 subdivisions with 1,023 lots; no residential-planned communities. Total lots – 1,023.
District 3 (Joan Deaver): 41 subdivisions with 3,500 lots; eight residential- planned communities with 3,836 lots. Total lots – 7,336.
District 4 (George Cole): 17 subdivisions with 2,316 lots; five residential-planned communities with 1,254 lots. Total lots – 3,570.
District 5 (Vance Phillips): 17 subdivisions with 1,688 lots; nine residential- planned communities with 1,808 lots. Total lots – 3,496.