One project, one plan

August 22, 2017

Anyone following zoning-change and conditional-use applications in Sussex County has noticed developers typically present one plan before Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission, where nearby residents often oppose it.

Then, after hearing neighbors' traffic and density concerns, a new plan is submitted to county council at a second public hearing a few weeks later.

Presenting before council, developers are consistently careful to note the project has been revised in light of planning commission recommendations and public concerns.

These revisions are not generally enough to change public opinion, but they allow developers to say, on the record, they have responded to public issues, an argument clearly intended to bolster their legal case if a denied application is appealed.

But the public - and even council itself - frequently has no chance to review the revised plan presented for the first time at the public hearing.

The council may leave the record open to allow public comment, but even that process has been questioned by one conditional-use applicant, who says if the public can continue to comment, then so can the developer, who wants to submit a third plan for consideration.

It's clearly time to revise this procedure. It invites developers to submit plans they know will be denied so they can later submit slightly revised plans they say reflect planning department and public input.

It's a procedure that clearly invites later lawsuits.

Only one plan should be considered per application.

The plan considered during the county council hearing should be exactly the same as the plan submitted to the planning commission. If, following the planning commission hearing, a developer wants to revise the plans, the original should be withdrawn.

The new project should then be submitted to planning and zoning, allowing the public appropriate time for review and comment.

This procedure will not only improve plans submitted to planning and zoning. It's also the best way to give the public a fair chance to comment at county council's public hearing.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.