Recommendations for Sussex officials to consider
I agree with what Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth has been disseminating and urge Sussex County Council to act on all its comments.
I ask council to review three additional elements of the land-use approval process.
1. Maximum lot calculation - If the proposed parcel contains nontidal wetlands, the corresponding acreage must be excluded from the maximum lot number calculation.
2. Contiguous open space - What is the intent of the cluster subdivision's contiguous open space? Is it not to have a large tract of useful open area instead of having fragmented areas throughout the subdivision? As code reads, "It shall not be constituted of fragmented lands with little open space value." But then, a strange statement follows: "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."
Look at the site plans of recent cluster subdivision proposals. Most of them have fragmented open spaces due to the phrase following “except.”
This phrase voids the purpose and intent. The except phrase seems to have been added to provide a justification for fragmented open space and needs to be removed.
3. Approvals in conflict with information supplied by state agencies must be explained in writing - In the Quality of Life Act of 1988, it reads: "If the planning agency makes recommendations that are in conflict with the information supplied by state and local agencies or local school districts, it must explain its reasons for doing so in writing."
I counted 28 subdivisions with more than 4,300 lots/units approved exclusively in Investment Level 4 since 2018, where the state said there is no plan to spend high infrastructure improvement costs, or asked the county to preserve farmlands or environmentally critical areas. However, I have not seen any explanation of such approvals in writing.
The recently approved Grayrock subdivision, surrounded by Redden Forest on three sides, is why I started looking into this issue. The site plan shows most of the old-growth forest will be removed. What's worse? The Department of Agriculture said they would have to cut down 35 acres of Redden Forest around Grayrock to provide a firebreak. Do I need to submit a FOIA request to get the planning & zoning commission’s explanation?
Reviewing this approval practice now is critical, because more than 10 subdivisions with about 3,000 units/lots have already gone through the PLUS reviews but have not yet been approved by the county. One – Raley Farm with 646 lots – is waiting for a P&Z vote; some have public hearings scheduled, and some are yet to be submitted.
So, I suggest the county heed the state's recommendations, and preserve farmlands and environmentally sensitive areas. If an application in Level 4 must be approved, the infrastructure in the surrounding region must be improved to a pre-specified level before the heavy construction vehicles and equipment for the new development start jamming the rural area roads.