Sussex must address height limit

September 27, 2013

Since when do we increase the allowed height for most buildings in all com­mercial zones by 43 percent through a simple legal interpretation? No public discussion? No public hearing? No vote by elected officials? This is about as crazy and ridiculous as it gets. But that’s exactly what has happened.

A few years ago, developers of the Vine­yards at Nassau Valley looked into a zoning variance from the accepted 42-foot height limit in commercial zones so they could build two mixed commercial and residential build­ings to 60 feet. That would accommodate commercial space at the street level and three floors of residential overhead.

While research­ing the variance procedure, however, an attor­ney discovered a clause in the county’s zoning which states “ ... public and semi-public or public service buildings, hospitals, institutions or schools, when permitted in a district, may be erected to a height not exceeding 60 feet.” After lengthy discussion behind the scenes, a county attorney said the proposed Vine­yards buildings fit the “public or semi-public” definition. Sussex Planning and Zoning then approved permits for the buildings to go up to 60 feet.

Under that broad definition, any commer­cial structure in Sussex with limited or unlim­ited public access can now rise to 60 feet. One hotel along Route 1 is under construction and will be 60 feet tall when complete. Another is in the works. Given the value of commercial real estate, it’s safe to assume the greatest ma­jority of commercial structures going forward will be 60 feet as opposed to the 42 feet for so long considered law.

Maybe the legal interpretation is correct and the authors of Sussex zoning intended the height limit in commercial zoning to be 60 feet for almost everything. Most, however, would agree that interpretation is, at the very least, questionable.

Sussex County Council should direct Plan­ning and Zoning to halt any further permits for 60-foot buildings until the “public or semi­public” provision is researched to determine original intent, and until the public has an opportunity to weigh in on the wisdom of allowing 60-foot buildings on any property zoned commercial.

  • Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Laura Ritter, news editor; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; and Nick Roth, sports editor.

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