Editorial: Cluster law proposal win-win for all

March 8, 2019

Cleaner waterways with wider natural buffers. Greater swaths of open space. Preservation of mature trees. More contiguous and forested corridors for wildlife. Reduced costs and higher property values for developers and their eventual customers.

Is all of this possible? The answer is yes, but it is going to require a fix of the present clustering ordinance. That ordinance allows developers to cluster units on 7,500-square-foot lots instead of the minimum 20,000-square-foot lots allowed in standard subdivisions.

Most of Sussex is zoned AR-1, which allows farms and homes.

The advantages of 7,500-square-foot lots over 20,000-square-foot lots are huge. They permit developers to concentrate expensive infrastructure in smaller areas, meaning significantly less labor and materials.

That’s sidewalks, streets and utilities, and that means lower capital investment up front. Clustering also allows greater creativity in fashioning water, meadow and wooded features which all contribute to premium prices for homesites. Who doesn’t want to be near a meadow, a forest or a pond?

Although many developers are taking advantage of the smaller required lot sizes, they aren’t incorporating superior design elements such as those items mentioned above.

Sussex County Councilman I.G. Burton wants to change that. He has proposed a revised ordinance requiring mandatory demonstration of truly superior design elements in exchange for smaller lot sizes.

His timing is good. When Sussex County Council approved clustering in 2008, members made incorporation of superior design elements voluntary rather than mandatory. The county was in the throes of the economic recession. Council didn’t want to throw any cold water on efforts to revive the housing industry. That has all changed.

One thing to note: The clustering ordinance can have the effect of inadvertently increasing density. Some parcels can accommodate the allowable number of 20,000-square-foot lots, while others, based on geography and configuration, cannot. But they can accommodate all of the 7,500-square-foot lots permitted in the cluster ordinance.

Clustering makes a lot of sense, but requiring superior design elements would make it a win-win for developers and everyone else.   


  • 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.