Government overreach or government excellence?

October 3, 2023

Sussex County Council members and planning and zoning commissioners met Sept. 21 for a workshop on land-use policies and county code. While closed to public comment, the workshop was well attended by the public. There were no decisions made; the workshop’s purpose was simply to get a discussion started.  Most if not all of the topics will have to go through a number of public workshops and meetings, during which the public will have its say. The Sussex Economic Development Action Committee congratulates the county for getting started with what should be a long process. 

Many SEDAC members were in attendance or tuned in via Zoom. SEDAC’s monthly meeting was Sept. 22, so we were able to discuss issues brought up in the workshop. It’s clear from the suggestions at the workshop that any future development is going to cost more.   I dislike quoting statistics, but I have seen numbers that place the cost of regulating construction at anywhere from $100,000 to $175,000 per lot. It’s not hard to guess who is going to pay that, and guess what it does to the idea of workforce housing.   

Not one suggestion at the workshop focused on cost explosions caused by additional regulations. There will still be government and nonprofit groups in the housing business, but their budgets will be limited. The ownership requirement will disqualify thousands from these programs. We must create new programs so young people will have the same opportunities that older people had when they looked for their first home.

We’ve talked to companies that want to come here, but there are no homes for their workforce. Many of these folks who now provide services east of Route 113 can’t afford to live where they work. If these regulations become law, the hope of having any skilled or professional workers who call Sussex their home is over. Young people will leave at greater rates than they are doing now.  

I heard a great deal of talk about additional buffers. The first thing one learns about buffers is that they cause sprawl. The more land we use for buffers, the less land remains for housing, making the cost of new homes rise. 

A few years ago, I attended a program about buffers sponsored by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. The paid expert provided information on buffers – from size to what one should do within the buffers to protect streams and bays. At that time, Delaware and its bureaucrats were pushing major increases in the size of buffers. The expert immediately turned his attention to buffer sizes and stated it did not matter what size a buffer was (10 feet, 100 feet, 1,000 feet); it mattered what was done within the buffer.  

The bureaucrats went into a state of panic, dragging the speaker out for a heated discussion. After about 15 minutes, the conference started again with the speaker, who didn’t admit any error in his presentation. Instead, he moved quickly to his major point of what must be done to make a buffer effective. The point from this fiasco that continues to shape my opinion of buffer regulations is that best management practices always win over size in protecting the environment.  

There are changes we need to make in order to make Sussex a greater place to live, but it’s not all on the county. The road system here has never stayed even with our needs. The first land-use plan for Sussex came from the state under Gov. Russell Peterson. Back then, in the late ‘60s, the state called for Route 1 from Five Points to Rehoboth to be zoned commercial. The state did not make any improvements to that stretch of road until the ‘80s, and then did upgrades without any input from either the county or Rehoboth. The Georgetown bypass currently under construction was planned to begin in the ‘70s. I guess 50 years isn’t that long to wait.

Let’s try something that worked for the county in the past. Let’s appoint a committee of the major groups involved in this issue and see if we can come up with solutions that enable us to make workforce and affordable housing available in Sussex. Maybe it will enable us to keep young people here, and help skilled and professional workers find homes. 

Joe Conaway is the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee chairman.

  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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