Growth designation issue not worth much energy

December 3, 2021

On Nov. 27, 2018, Sussex County Council members voted 3-0 to change the future land-use map in the county’s comprehensive plan. With corridor preservation and environmental sensitivity in mind, they agreed that land east of Route 1, from a little north of Red Mill Pond to the Route 30 overpass near Milford, should have a rural/low-density designation. That was opposed to the growth designation in the comprehensive plan in force between 2008 and 2018, and in keeping with the first draft of the new plan.

Council members went on to approve the 10-year comprehensive plan now in effect, with the low-density designation change. The state later certified the plan.

Two property owners in the area around the Route 88-Route 1 intersection are now crying foul. They say the change from what had been in effect for many years was considered and voted on shortly before the comprehensive plan was approved, with no direct notification to them and thus no chance to register objections. They want their former label returned, even though the state objects to the more intense designation and doesn’t plan to support publicly funded infrastructure improvement where the plan emphasizes rural landscapes, open space and farmland preservation.

The irony, of course, is that the agricultural/residential zoning already in place allows two units of residential development per acre throughout that area, so rural landscape, open space and farmland preservation without the purchase of development rights is little more than a wish.

Sussex County Council signaled its objection to intense commercial and other high-density development in that area by denying a rezoning application for a major shopping center. That’s where the real teeth lie.

Regardless of whether county and state reverse the designation change, Sussex Council still has final say on land-use issues. No intense, growth-oriented development can occur on the land in question without rezoning, and all the public hearings and multiple votes that entails. That’s where the public needs to keep its focus. This designation issue is largely symbolic.

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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