Cluster ordinance revision sorely needed

November 6, 2020

In 2004, Sussex County Council passed an ordinance allowing cluster housing. That ordinance gives builders the option of developing raw land with 7,500-square-foot lots in AR-1 agricultural-residential zones. Up until that time, county zoning in AR-1 districts required 20,000-square-foot, or half-acre, lots.

The change did not give developers greater overall density. They still had to calculate their permitted number of lots on the basis of the 20,000-square-foot size. What it did do, however, was give potential homeowners smaller pieces of property to maintain while giving development planners the opportunity to save money on the cost of infrastructure installation while creating larger areas of open space, both for its natural benefits and for providing amenities available to the communities being planned.

In exchange for those advantages, developers  – in order to qualify for clustering – must include natural buffers from wetlands, tidal waters, farm areas and adjacent residential areas; plan at least 30 percent of the total acreage for contiguous open space; install sidewalks on at least one side of all streets; and preserve scenic views, and natural and historic resources. Homes also must be clustered on the least environmentally sensitive areas of a parcel.

Testifying to the appeal of the clustering option is the fact that developers of almost all subdivisions in Sussex since that time have chosen that route. A win-win for Sussex County and its residents.

The only glitch is that in the most rapidly developing area of Sussex, known as the Coastal Area, east of a line running roughly from Lewes southward to a little west of Fenwick Island, developers wanting to cluster aren’t required to meet the same conditions as in the rest of Sussex. Yet, that’s where the requirements are most needed. It makes no sense.

Sussex County Council will soon be revisiting this situation. Those interested in seeing Sussex develop wisely need to pay close attention to this discussion and insist that what’s good for most of Sussex County should be applied to all of Sussex, especially in the sensitive coastal area.

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, Publisher Emeritus, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, Sports Editor Emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, Associate Editor; Nick Roth, Sports Editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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