Land (mis)use: Out of control
In Sussex County, the pace of development has now outgrown the ability of many of us to differentiate one project from another. It seems that may be true of those people working on land use in the state as well.
At the public hearing Aug. 10 concerning the Grayrock subdivision (where 94 new homes are proposed), two foresters from the Department of Agriculture spoke against the project because:
- Redden Forest near the site is a habitat for several breeding pairs of endangered tiger salamanders
- It is a groundwater recharge area
- If the subdivision is approved, a 35-acre section of forest around the subdivision will be cut down to provide a firebreak for the project
- There are federally granted and ranked Legacy Forests on the south and north of the parcel.
In addition, this site is located in the state's Investment Strategy Level 4 area, where the state opposes development because it does not plan to invest in infrastructure.
The PLUS review says development of this site may be environmentally inappropriate as it contains the following environmental features of statewide significance that are incompatible with dense development activities: The forested portion of this parcel is located within a state natural areas designation. Natural areas contain lands identified by the Governor's Natural Areas Advisory Council as containing high-quality natural features unique to Delaware. Additionally, the forested portion of this site is part of an area identified as key wildlife habitat in the Delaware Wildlife Action Plan.
In spite of this, the planning & zoning commission approved it Aug. 25, without any regard to the foresters' opposition, citing landowner rights to build two units per acre in the AR-1 zone, where there are other subdivisions. Those other subdivisions are not surrounded on three sides by the Redden Forest as Grayrock is.
Delaware State Title Chapter 69 reads in part: If the planning agency makes recommendations that are in conflict with the information supplied by the state and local agencies or local school districts, it must explain its reasons for doing so in writing.
So what are the P&Z's reasons to approve Grayrock? What are the P&Z's reasons to approve subdivisions in Investment Level 4 in general? About 4,300 units have been approved since 2018 exclusively in Level 4 or out-of-play areas in Sussex County; another 1,400 units were partially in 3 and 4. Where are the reasons (in writing) for these approvals? The timing for immediate consideration of this issue is critical in light of another 3,000 units in the Level 4 pipeline.