Councilwoman Deaver: Open, ready for business

June 13, 2013

On May 31 I went to the University of Delaware’s IPA class called “Complete Communities” about “Perceived barriers to local land development and review process.” Our class was for elected officials and was the third of a three-part schedule; the first and second were for developers and Realtors. I look forward to the combined group summit meeting Nov. 4, 2013.

The county is devoted to help provide new high paying jobs and I am interested to learn how we can help smooth the land use process; however the facts are that Sussex County has done more than its share of encouraging development.

Sussex County still has no unified development code and has one of the most liberal zoning patterns on the Delmarva Peninsula and likely well beyond that. Overall, Sussex is zoned Agricultural/Residential (A/R) - which is a “holding zone.” A/R is convenient for developers in that they don’t need a rezoning or a council hearing for an approved subdivision. But one of the problems with the A/R zone is it allows small lots in all locations and this invites sprawl. This is why a study predicted our AR zoning would allow one-million homes in Sussex.

At the urging of the Sussex County Economic Development Committee, Sussex Council nixed sunset laws and revived old and expired approvals for nearly 18,000 lots. Many of them date back to before many of our new residents arrived; and they will be surprised to see houses pop up unexpectedly.

There is a disparate connection between the county and state. For example, the state created an Inland Bays Pollution Control Plan and held public hearings for nearly 10 years, but when it became a regulation, the county (and some prominent land owners) sued the state for control of the buffers, and they won, lost, and then won again (at your expense). And now Sussex County’s 50-foot buffers do not meet EPA standards.

The county sidesteps the state’s request to limit housing in what is called Level 4 - rural areas - far from community services with poor roads. And developers do not have to account for county infrastructure to serve their buyers. Furthermore developers need not pay impact fees toward costs such as paramedics, fire service, police, schools, hospitals, transportation, libraries and services to the elderly.

Sussex County had no meaningful participation in the state’s three-year-long Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee work or vote on their recommendations.

When brought up to date, three councilmen scoffed at it during a council session.

Additionally, the council was not represented at public hearings for proposed changes to the sediment and storm water control regulations; the final hearing occurred 30 days ago. Will the county again wait until the regulation is promulgated then sue?

Sussex County also avoids adopting a drainage code. So there is no county enforcement that a plan will successfully drain water away from buildings or that the builder has correctly followed the plan. There are many examples of this and there is evidence that land levels can be built-up regardless of how it may affect drainage into surrounding areas.

And symbolically, developers no longer dedicate funds to the Sussex County Land Trust which they founded to help preserve open space, but they have begun building again anyway.

I am satisfied that we are open and ready for business.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver
Rehoboth Beach

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