Planning for Sussex - think big

November 3, 2017

Sussex County’s planners and council members, updating the comprehensive land-use plan, should think big. Here’s a big idea: a high-rise open space conservation overlay zone.

That zone would involve a corridor about 5-10 miles wide reaching across Sussex County from northeast - between Lewes and Milton - southwest to the state line between Seaford and Laurel. On lands zoned AR-1, developers could apply for overlay zoning permitting them to build their units up, not out.

Most of the land in that corridor is zoned for agricultural and residential use. AR-1 zoning allows development of two units per acre by right, meaning no zoning change required. But it also means the land could eventually get used up for development, resulting in the loss of great swaths of prime farmland now serving to grow fresh food for the mid-Atlantic region.

Permitting sensitively designed and attractively landscaped 60- to 80-foot-high complexes with underground parking would preserve the greatest majority of developable tracts as open space for farming. The permitting process would require that developers who propose projects for neighboring parcels would site the housing complexes in such a way as to keep open space portions contiguous for the efficiency of farming operations.

To be clear, this option would allow no increased density over what current zoning permits. Preservation of open space and Sussex County’s important farming tradition would be the motivation.

By keeping such complexes in a relatively narrow corridor, public transportation systems could service them affordably and mitigate traffic implications.

That particular northeast to southwest alignment includes many waterways of the Broadkill River, Indian River and Nanticoke River watersheds. Those waterways and their buffers - which should be wider in such an overlay zone - provide natural wildlife corridors. There would also be opportunities within that zone for creating a cross-county water trail connecting Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay.

Sussex is by far Delmarva’s largest and most rapidly developing county. It’s time to think big. 

  • 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.