Lewes committee tackles wetlands, open space, buffers

Committee calls for stricter regulation in annexation districts
March 15, 2019

As Sussex County officials work toward updated regulations for wetlands and buffers, a Lewes committee wants to ensure the city stays in sync with existing county regulations in Lewes annexation areas. 

The annexation regulation committee recently voted to recommend excluding tidal wetlands from the density formula for residential development in city annexation zones. The recommendation would apply only to land under consideration for annexation into the city.

At its March 11 meeting, the committee further refined its recommendation, seeking to require a developer to submit documentation from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control identifying tidal wetlands. The recommendation also requires developers to provide a map certified by an environmental consultant showing the boundaries of nontidal wetlands. 

The committee suggests allowing all wetlands to be included as open space in a subdivision plan, but at least 30 percent of the total open space must be on dry land and be usable for community residents.

The recommendation safeguards the city from a subdivision plan on property with large amounts of wetlands.

In the city’s annexation-residential district, a developer may choose to develop the property under a traditional design or through one of two cluster options.

In Cluster Option 1, a developer is required to have 30 percent open space, while Option 2 requires 50 percent open space. If council adopts the recommendation, a developer would be required to ensure 30 percent of parcel’s total open space, whether 30 percent or 50 percent of the property, be on uplands and usable.

For buffers, the committee is content with existing regulations requiring a 50-foot buffer from tidal wetlands and 25-foot buffer from nontidal wetlands. Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait, committee chairman, said the city can always reconvene the committee to re-examine regulations if the county enacts wider buffers.

Resident Maryann Ennis pointed out that the state recommends 100-foot buffers from tidal wetlands. She said three experts at the Lewes Planning Commission’s water workshop Feb. 21 also suggested 100-foot buffers. She asked Beaufait if he’d consider wider buffers if it’s recommended in the hydrology study the city recently commissioned.

He said he would not.

“I’ve got to consider all of the other issues as well,” he said. “I may end up accepting it, but they aren’t responsible for all of the other issues we have to deal with. Sitting on this side of the table, you have to look at a heck of a lot more than you may look at on that side.”

Among those issues is encouraging annexation, which would be less attractive to developers if the regulations are too stringent.

Other residents criticized the committee’s unwillingness to exceed the county’s existing regulations. One resident interrupted the meeting to urge the committee to take the lead on this issue.

Committee member Robert Kennedy said it makes more sense for Lewes to stay in line with county regulations. “Anything we do only takes effect if a property annexes into the city,” he said. “Whatever changes we make, it doesn’t bind a property owner currently in the county. I think it makes a lot of sense to mirror the county.”

City Manager Ann Marie Townshend agreed. “Developers are completely content staying in the county if they don’t think there’s a benefit in the city,” she said. “We’re in a tough position. My concern is that we won’t even apply this zoning if nobody annexes.”