Lewes may follow Sussex County’s lead and exclude tidal wetlands from density calculations on a property being annexed into the city.
The annexation regulation committee voted unanimously Feb. 25 to recommend excluding tidal wetlands, but stopped short of recommending the exclusion of all wetlands. If approved, the new density calculation would apply only to properties seeking annexation in one of the city’s two new annexation zones, AX-RES and AX-MIX.
By excluding tidal wetlands, officials limit the maximum number of homes permitted in a development to actual buildable land, in most cases.
“I don’t understand why we would not do that,” said committee member Bob Patterson.
Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait, the committee chair, said it’s likely the correct action to ensure the city stays competitive with Sussex County for land development. The goal of the annexation zones was to create new districts that were a mix of Lewes and Sussex County regulations. The result was intended to be a zone that’s more strict than the county, but more lenient than the city.
City officials have been heavily criticized by residents in recent months for not delaying a vote on the annexation of the Brittingham property on New Road. When the property was annexed Nov. 13, Sussex County Council was discussing the potential change to the density calculation; county officials adopted the change less than a month later.
Lewes Councilman Rob Morgan attempted to delay the vote at the November meeting, but could not sway his colleagues.
The annexation committee was not prepared to recommend all wetlands be excluded from the formula. With a goal of being competitive with the county’s regulations, Councilman Dennis Reardon, a committee member, said it makes more sense to be in line with the county on this issue.
“I wouldn’t want to go further than [the county] because it would jeopardize any opportunity to annex property,” he said.
The city’s Planning and Development Coordinator Tom West said excluding all wetlands would be a difficult decision under the current circumstances.
“If we were just looking at it from a planning perspective, I think you would say if it’s not buildable you’d exclude it,” he said. “But I understand it’s a balancing act we’re in.”
Sumner Crosby, a new member of the planning commission, urged the committee to tread carefully with density in environmentally sensitive areas.
“I think it’s clear we have a whole lot of vulnerability in these areas where tidal wetlands exist, and in areas adjacent to tidal wetlands when you consider the role sea-level rise will have in this community,” he said.
The annexation committee will continue discussing other issues related to the annexation zones Tuesday, March 5, at 10 a.m. Danielle Swallow of Delaware Sea Grant will meet with the group to discuss issues related to wetlands. The committee will also discuss modifications to open space requirements.