The dictionary defines dwelling as a building or place of shelter to live in; a home. However, under Sussex County code, thousands of homes are not considered dwellings.
Manufactured homes are not defined as dwellings in the numerous pages of Sussex County code, prompting officials to take action to amend ordinances. In addition, the county needs updated regulations on who can live in housing units.
At its June 10 meeting, county council introduced an amended ordinance to correct code language. The matter will now be the subject of public hearings before the planning and zoning commission and council.
Under current code, manufactured homes are included with hotels, motels and tourist homes. If approved, the new ordinance would list manufactured homes as dwellings.
The definition of dwelling surfaced during a public hearing on a proposed RV park and campground in Massey's Landing. The proposed site plan for Castaways at Masseys Landing included campsites near the boundary line of an adjacent manufactured home park.
Under county code, campsites must be at least 400 feet from an existing dwelling. Officials decided that regulation did not apply because the manufactured homes in the park were not considered legal dwellings where the setbacks would apply.
That project – recommended for approval last June 27 by planning and zoning – has yet to come up for vote by county council.
“It should be pointed out that there was no apparent intention to imply that a manufactured home is not a dwelling,” said assistant county attorney Vince Robertson.
Robertson said that the idea of an updated ordinance was also discussed during a recent fair-housing training session.
“This is a start of a process,” said county attorney J. Everett Moore, adding the county needs to assure the zoning/housing code is updated and in compliance with all laws. “It's important to take this first step.”
Better definition of family
Robertson said county officials must also redefine “family” as it pertains to code. “We are not trying to define family but who can live in a dwelling under state and federal law,” he said.
The proposed ordinance would add definitions of single and multifamily dwellings to avoid unintended discrimination under state and federal law, Robertson said.
A family may include one or two people living together as well as their natural, adopted, step-children and foster children. Children are also permitted to reside with legally appointed guardians.
A single family dwelling would be defined as a place of residence with single culinary facilities allowing the following:
• One family which may consist of one person or two or more related persons by blood or marriage with any number of natural, foster, step or adopted children.
• Two single parents or guardians with any number of children.
• A group of not more than four unrelated persons.
• A licensed group residential facility serving 10 or fewer persons with disabilities on a 24-hour basis.
• One or two elderly and/or disabled persons who own a dwelling and one other family consisting of one or two persons with any number of children.
Dates have not been scheduled for the public hearings. Robertson said the proposed ordinance would have no effect on pending applications.