Editorial: Buffer, density proposals have storm implications

September 14, 2018

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the East Coast, we are reminded again that we are a low-lying county on a low-lying peninsula.

As this is being written, our thoughts are with the populations to the south of us, more in the storm’s projected path. We are hopeful that they, and we, will be spared heavy damage.

Powerful storms can wreak damaging change in short order. Knowing that, it’s important in vulnerable areas to take forward-thinking and longer-term steps that can help mitigate potential damage.

In Sussex, the landscape is changing rapidly even without big storms. Recently released statistics show 263 land-use applications in fiscal 2018, which ended June 30. That number is 87 more than in fiscal 2017.

There were almost 2,000 building permits issued in 2017, and as of the end of June 2018, another 992 had been issued - on pace with the year before.
These applications and permits typically involve projects that reduce pervious surfaces and trees, which can negatively impact stormwater drainage.

They reduce the amount of area for uptake of heavy rainfalls, and that will lead to increased localized flooding.

County officials are considering ordinances to increase the width and plantings of buffers in new developments. They are also considering ordinances to remove unbuildable acreage from the formula used to determine how many units can be built on residentially zoned land.

Both initiatives would help us be more storm and flooding resistant: The buffer ordinance because it would provide greater protection to the waterways and adjacent wetlands that soak up and move stormwater; the density formula change because it would reduce allowable units on properties with unbuildable acreage - often wetlands - and in so doing reduce the loss of pervious surface so important to drainage.

These changes deserve positive action by planning and council members.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, publisher emeritus, and Laura Ritter, news editor, 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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