Rental ordinance an important first step

June 17, 2022

More than a decade ago, officials passed the first Sussex County affordable rental ordinance. Under the program, developers are given incentives – most tied to increased density – to construct affordable rental units.

But even during a booming housing market, only one project has taken advantage of the program – Coastal Tide Apartments off Plantation Road near Lewes.

Clearly, current incentives are not enough to entice developers to add affordable rental units to apartment complex projects.

Since the county's 2018 comprehensive land-use plan update, Sussex officials have been seriously pursuing effective and sustainable solutions to promote affordable and/or workforce housing.

A county-funded housing market study revealed what most already know: affordable housing, especially in eastern Sussex County, is almost nonexistent.

Among the first measures Sussex officials took on was an overhaul of the affordable rental program.

A divided Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of the ordinance, with a few changes, and county council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance during its Tuesday, June 28 meeting.

The most controversial incentive in the updated ordinance is a major land-use process change. In the county's coastal, town center and developing areas, a by-right provision permitting up to 12 units per acre would remove the need for developers to file rezoning and/or conditional-use applications for multifamily housing and go through the public hearing process.

Currently, in noncommercial areas, developers planning to build apartment complexes must go through the public hearing process.

If the new ordinance is approved, they would only need to follow the regulations and submit a site plan to the planning & zoning commission for review. Officials are banking on it as the breakthrough the program needs.

We agree with county officials who say the program is only one step of many needed to attack the lack of workforce housing.

Sussex County government does not build homes or apartments. But, it can provide builders and developers incentives and also support organizations that construct affordable housing. County officials can also take a serious look at zoning regulations that prohibit or restrict innovative options for affordable housing.

Solutions are not easy. Compromises and changes in traditional zoning regulations are required.


  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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