Buffer ordinance proposal surfaces again

Sussex County Council wants staff, lawyers to provide draft document as soon as possible
September 28, 2021

It’s been two years since a Sussex County Council-appointed working group on buffers, wetlands and drainage released its final report to council.

At the request of Council President Mike Vincent, the report has resurfaced. County Administrator Todd Lawson made a presentation to council during its Sept. 21 meeting. “It’s something we are concerned with and there is support to tackle this very complicated matter,” he said. “The code needs updating and needs to be cleaner and better written with science in mind.”

Lawson stressed the proposed ordinance would only apply to new residential development with no impact of agricultural lands.

After the presentation, Vincent said it’s time to take action. “We need to have an ordinance so we can introduce it to get it through the hearing process so the public will have an opportunity to comment,” he said. “A lot of time has been spent on this. We need to address and talk about it.”

A draft ordinance will be presented to council during a future meeting.

Lawson said state environmental officials are considering new regulations and possible permitting for projects along non-tidal wetlands.

Among the key recommendations from the working group is a change in widths of wetlands buffers and which wetlands require buffers.

Those include an increase from 50 feet to 100 feet for tidal water and wetlands buffers and 30 feet for nontidal wetlands. The county currently does not require buffers along nontidal wetlands.

Under the proposal, a buffer is divided in half – Zone A, the area closest to the resource with the most protection, and Zone B. A list is provided for what activities and construction are permitted in each zone.

For example, sewage disposal plants, landfills, and waste storage and amenities such as pools and clubhouses would not be permitted in either zone.

Buffer averaging would be permitted, allowing a developer or landowner to reduce buffer width in one area if an increase in buffer width is provided in another area. Averaging would be permitted only in Zone B.

Lawson said the proposal is aimed at protecting what’s important on a property with some flexibility built in, including incentives for preserving woodlands. “Not all properties are the same and one size does not fit all,” he said.

The proposed ordinance includes:

• Property lot lines would no longer be permitted as part of a buffer

• Tidal waters and tidal wetlands: 100 feet

• Perennial nontidal rivers and streams: 50 feet

• Nontidal wetlands: 30 feet

• Intermittent streams: 30 feet

• Tax ditches: no buffers required.

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