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P & Z phasing would have served public well

January 21, 2020

The ink was barely dry approving plans for Azalea Woods, a 610-lot subdivision near Georgetown, when developers came back for a redo.

In presenting plans to Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission, the developer originally said build-out would likely take about 10 years. That prompted Commissioner Kim Hoey Stevenson to suggest limiting the building permits issued each year to 70 to mitigate traffic congestion on nearby roads, allowing time for road improvements as traffic increased. 

Two nearby intersections are expected to be failing, Hoey Stevenson said, with no improvements scheduled in the six-year transportation capital plan. Phasing, she said, would allow development without creating safety problems for county residents.

But three weeks after the project was approved with phasing, the developer was back, demanding not 70 units but up to 150 units per year. Apparently fearful of a lawsuit, the commission voted 4-1 to give up on its plan for slower growth. 

Because Sussex County has yet to enact an adequate public facilities ordinance – or even a proposed new agreement with transportation officials – requiring specific road improvements is up to DelDOT.

But land-use decisions, including conditions, are the responsibility of the commission and Sussex County Council. Slowing down development to allow roads to catch up is well within the responsibilities – and the duties – of these agencies. 

Key among their responsibilities, the county’s comprehensive plan states, is to enhance the quality of life for residents through planning, providing for well-planned growth and development that preserves the rural character of the county and its natural resources. 

Azalea Woods subdivision is allowed by right under existing zoning, but phasing the project to allow time for road improvements offered a creative way to allow growth without threatening the safety of nearby residents.

Yet because this was an amendment to a condition, the public had no chance to comment on this decision.

The commission should have stood firm or – at the very least – compromised, possibly allowing 100 permits the first year, followed by 70 permits in subsequent years.

 

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

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