Open space, interconnectivity topics of workshop

Sussex council and planning & zoning commission meet to discuss land-use concerns
October 6, 2023

While forest preservation and perimeter buffers seemed to dominate most of the discussion during a Sept. 21 Sussex County Council and Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission workshop, there were other pertinent topics included in the 95-page presentation.

Open space

County Administrator Todd Lawson said open space regulations need updating. He said officials and the public are questioning why amenities, such as pools and other recreational features, and stormwater ponds are counted as open space. Under current regulations, a cluster subdivision must have at least 30% of connected open space.

“Is 30% enough?” Lawson asked.

Other areas counted as open space include buffers and forests, wetlands and sidewalks.

Lawson said some developers even count the grass strip between sidewalks and streets as open space.

Standards include passive and active open space. Lawson said a consideration of whether residents should have access to all open space should be discussed.

He said it’s not clear what type of stormwater management is permitted in open space. No buildings are permitted in open space areas, yet clubhouses and pools are allowed and counted as open space.

Open space is one of 17 elements in the county’s cluster development ordinance.

The code reads: “Required open space must be designed to be beneficial to the residents or users of the open space. It shall not be constituted of fragmented lands with little open space value. Accordingly, 30% of all required open space shall be located on one contiguous tract of land, except that such open space may be separated by water bodies and a maximum of one street.”

“How in the world do stormwater ponds meet the definition of open space?” asked Councilman John Rieley. “There is no public access.”

“Open space is not clearly defined, and it has morphed into something else,” Lawson said. “If we make a change and ponds are not open space, it will take units to do it. It's a balance we have to strike.”

Assistant county attorney Vince Robertson said an update of the superior design elements required in cluster subdivisions is needed. “We need to review design requirements and procedures for cluster development,” he said, adding perhaps the standards should also apply to standard subdivisions.

In the ordinance, Robertson said, it states a developer shall consider the 17 items for a cluster subdivision. Perhaps those requirements should be mandatory, Robertson added.

Councilman Mark Schaeffer said construction work hours should be standardized. In addition, he said, developments that are split in half by roadways should have amenities on both sides and also have an enhanced crosswalk requirement.


Interconnectivity has become a hot-button topic in the eastern part of the county due to opposition to interconnectivity in two subdivisions in Lewes. Lawson said it's an issue the officials could consider.

At Showfield, an access road will link the community with Monroe Avenue Extended and Freeman Highway by the Olde Town at Lewes subdivision.

A street from the Kings Highway-Clay Road intersection will link the yet-to-be-built Village Center and Village Center Cottages with the Governors and Senators communities.

In both cases, residents requested the homeowners associations be permitted to place gates on the roads with emergency access only. Also in both cases, the planning & zoning commission denied the requests, stating the access roads were approved on the final site plans.

“Interconnectivity is something that goes back to the comprehensive plan, where it's encouraged, if not required. Even though it may be on the site plan, it's become controversial today,” Lawson said.

Rieley said he can understand why an HOA would not support interconnectivity between parcels. “They own the roads and pay to maintain them. More traffic puts additional wear and tear. How is that fair?” he asked.

“We have a spiderweb of shortcuts,” said Commissioner Bruce Mears.

He added that communities should be able to put up gates to block access for safety reasons. “And the streets are not built to state standards. Gates should be allowed,” he said.

Alternative housing

Lawson said one possible way to increase affordable housing inventory would be to upgrade the county's regulations on single- and double-wide manufactured homes and accessory dwelling units.

County Director of Planning & Zoning Jamie Whitehouse said the staff can now approve accessory dwelling units that meet all requirements if there are no objections. “There are about a dozen every year, and most are administratively approved,” he said.

Seventy-two have been approved over the past five years.

The units have to be detached from the main house and must have no more than 800 square feet of habitable area.

“Why are they supposed to be detached?” Lawson asked. “We can certainly consider changes.”

Rieley said the units should not be able to be used as rentals or as tourist homes.

Robertson said sometimes HOA covenants do not allow the small structures. “We can't enforce private covenants. It's not a business we want to get into,” he said.

Whitehouse said a farm of at least 10 acres can have one manufactured home. “It can be temporary for medical needs for two years,” he added.

The homes must be skirted and anchored, and be no older than 10 years. Whitehouse said construction standards have improved dramatically and a 10-year-old manufactured home is usually in great condition. “Is 10 years too strict?” he asked.

Councilwoman Cindy Green said there is an issue of residents living in campers.

Lawson said some people are faced with the choice of living in the woods, cars or RVs. “I'm not saying people should be able to live in RVs,” he said.

Lawson said nothing in code deals with park models, which are popular units used in campgrounds. One of the largest manufacturers of park models is Great Outdoor Cottages in the Delaware Coastal Business Park.

Part 1 was published in the Sept. 29 edition.


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