Sussex height debate in wrong order

December 6, 2013

Sussex County Council and Sussex County Planning and Zoning Com­mission members continue to kick around the question of building height limits.

A grammatical loophole in the zoning ordinance led to an informal legal interpreta­tion that effectively changed the long-standing building height limit for commercial buildings from 42 to 60 feet. A few buildings have been or are being built to that new limit, and at least one other may be on its way.

Most sensible people realize that the 60­foot provision was designed to accommodate public institutional-type buildings such as hospitals, courthouses and the like. It was not designed to supersede the 42-foot height limit provision in place - and followed for decades ­for commercial buildings.

However, instead of moving quickly to clear up the ambiguity in the ordinance, council members are using the opportunity to open discussion on changing the height limit.

This is way out of order.

As each day passes without first fixing the interpretation problem, those who want to build commercial struc­tures are left in limbo, not knowing whether to design and build according to the long-ac­cepted building height limit, or take a chance on the higher-limit interpretation with the risk that a court challenge could wreak havoc with their projects.

The question of higher building height as a means of addressing sprawl has merit as long as higher limits don’t simply mean more residential or commercial units on the same amount of property. Without provid­ing for open space to offset building height increases, upping height limits would only add to congestion on our highways and roads, and increase pressure on our public services.

Building height limits are an important and complicated discussion, but fixing an obvious loophole that is causing unnecessary confu­sion and concern is not. Sussex County Coun­cil should act quickly to clarify the 60-foot provision that their own director of planning and zoning says needs attention now.

Then, and only then, should they continue the dis­cussion on whether there are sensible ways to allow taller commercial and residential build­ings for the long-term benefit of the county, its residents and its visitors.

  • 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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