Coastal-area cluster process starts all over

Reintroduced ordinance hearings will be rescheduled in early 2021
December 11, 2020

An amended coastal-area cluster subdivision ordinance has been reintroduced by Sussex County Council. And this time, it does not include the controversial yield plan.

The ordinance would require the same superior-design standards for all cluster subdivisions. Currently, regulations for cluster subdivisions differ in AR-1, agricultural-residential, zoning districts and AR-1 land in the coastal-area district. Most land in the county is zoned AR-1.

“The majority of the opposition at the commission hearing was against the yield plan, and the planning and zoning commission is not in favor of it,” said assistant county attorney Vince Robertson during council's Dec. 8 meeting.

The ordinance had to be reintroduced when it was discovered that one of the legal advertisements for the original ordinance’s first hearing before Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission was published one day past the 14-day requirement to announce hearings.

The commission had the first hearing on Nov. 12. A scheduled county council hearing was canceled and the process started all over.

Councilman Doug Hudson of Dagsboro read a long statement in support of the ordinance. “We must be consistent, and why not have superior design?” he asked.

Burton will miss hearings

Hearings will be scheduled in January for planning and zoning commission, and in February or March for county council. The hearings will likely take place at Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown to allow for more attendance.

One of the ordinance's proponents will not be part of the new hearings. “This has been on my list for a long time,” said Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton of Lewes. “I'm sorry I won't be around to vote on it. It's the right ordinance, and I can't find a thing wrong with it.”

Burton lost his bid for a second term in the past election and will be replaced by Mark Schaeffer of Lewes in January.

Yield plan is removed

The yield plan had been removed from the ordinance but was included in the draft for discussion purposes. Now, it's been removed again.

With a yield plan, applicants would be required to submit a plan showing the maximum number of dwelling units on the acreage possible under a standard subdivision with 20,000-square-foot lots. The number of lots in the cluster subdivision design couldn't exceed the number of lots in the yield plan.

Some developers who spoke during the commission hearing said using the yield plan would cut density by up to half in most subdivisions, driving costs up to developers and ultimately to consumers.

Different standards exist

The same superior design standards required for cluster subdivisions in the majority of AR-1-zoned land are not required in for cluster subdivisions in the coastal area.

On land served by central sewer service, developers can build on 7,500-square-foot lots using the cluster option instead of 20,000-square-foot lots for standard subdivisions in AR-1 zoning. Because of the advantages of smaller lots, and more space for amenities, stormwater management and open space, nearly all subdivisions over the past decade have been constructed using the cluster option.

In the coastal area, in order to obtain cluster status, developers need only provide an environmental assessment and public facility evaluation report.

However, in all other AR-1 districts, requirements include buffers from wetlands, tidal water, farm areas and adjacent residential areas, as well as 30 percent contiguous open space, sidewalks on at least one side of all streets, and preservation of scenic views and natural and historic resources. Homes must be clustered on the least environmentally sensitive areas of a parcel.

Where is the coastal area?

The coastal area includes regions around Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, Ocean View and Fenwick Island inland to Route 113 in southeastern Sussex County, as well as locales around Dagsboro and Selbyville. It makes up about a quarter of the county's land mass.

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