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Council should assess fee for all upzoning

April 1, 2014

Those who attend Sussex County Council meetings may have been stunned recently when Sussex County Councilman Vance Phillips said developers who seek increased density for planned residential housing projects should pay a fee that could be used to fund land preservation.

It’s a slightly different take, but Phillips’ proposal is not unlike a measure Council­woman Joan Deaver has been trying to put on an agenda for years, an adequate facilities ordinance.

While some developers already pay infra­structure costs as required by the state or county, Deaver’s idea is that all developers should be assessed a fee to offset other infra­structure costs, including new schools.

Both these ideas have merit; as Phillips told council, some developers enjoy windfall profits from upzoned parcels. “Some of that money should go back to the public,” he said.

With backing from both Phillips and Deaver – two council members that are nearly always at odds with one another – this may be the ideal time to get something done to offset the costs of development now borne by the people who already live here.

While council works out the details, devel­opers are certain to rush to file new projects so they won’t be subject to a new ordinance that will likely raise their costs. That flood should be stemmed by a moratorium on up­zoning until public hearings can be held and a new ordinance can be passed.

Phillips specifically mentioned residential upzoning, but it’s clear developers of com­mercial land also enjoy a windfall profit when land is upzoned.

If Phillips and Deaver can both agree that it’s time for developers to give back to the public in exchange for upzoning, then it’s time to call a halt to upzoning until council can agree on the appropriate fees.

One solution may be to set aside part of the fees for land preservation and part for infra­structure improvements.

We applaud Councilman Phillips for raising the issue, especially in an election year. Now it’s time to do the hard work of getting a new ordinance on the books.

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