Sussex council defers vote on map amendment

County staff in discussions with Office of State Planning Coordination to improve process
January 14, 2022

Story Location:
Coastal Highway
Cave Neck Road
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

Sussex County has delayed action on a proposed amendment to the future land-use map for a 247-acre parcel of land east of Route 1 at the Cave Neck Road intersection north of Lewes.

At its Jan. 11 meeting, council voted 5-0 to defer a vote on the proposal to change the parcel’s map designation from a low-density area to a growth area, aka coastal area. The application is expected to be placed on council's Tuesday, Jan. 25 agenda.

Council President Mike Vincent said the deferral would allow more time for county staff to discuss issues with the Office of State Planning Coordination that have arisen with the future land-use map amendment process and to receive written comments from the public.

Sussex County Planning and Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse said since council's Dec. 14 public hearing, 143 letters in opposition to the change and 49 letters in support have been submitted for the public record.

Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend approval of the map amendment.

The primary owners of the parcel, the Robinson family and Seaside of Lewes LLC, claim that the designation was changed from a growth zone to a low-density district after public hearings on the comprehensive land-use plan had been concluded. They want Sussex County officials to return the parcel’s designation to a growth zone.

The future land-use map is a key component of the 2018 county comprehensive plan, which is reviewed by state officials and endorsed by Gov. John Carney. State officials are opposed to the map amendment.

In growth areas, many more development options are available, including high-density housing and commercial.

District 5 Councilman John Rieley said there is a lot of emotion around this request. He reiterated that the amendment is not for rezoning, and there has been no development proposed.

District 3 Councilman Mark Schaeffer said if any applications are filed, there will be additional public hearings. “Nothing will be done in a vacuum,” he said.

SARG: Overhaul the process

During the public comment period, Jeff Stone, representing Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth, said a 10-year plan that took more than two years to develop should not be modified on a weekly basis. “Changes to the future land-use map cannot be taken lightly. They are very serious, with significant long-term consequences, and require serious consideration,” he said.

Stone said the framework to overhaul the current flawed process for making amendments already exists in a memorandum of understanding between the county and the Office of State Planning Coordination.

He said the 19-year-old document needs updating, but it does provide a foundation on which the county, along with the state, can create a clear and concise process to analyze and evaluate proposed changes to the comprehensive plan future land-use map. “There needs to be a structured, predictable and formal process by which the county evaluates proposed changes to the future land-use map. SARG strongly urges the council to immediately take the steps necessary to engage with the appropriate state agencies and all other stakeholders, including the public, to quickly review, revise and expand as necessary the current MOU with the Office of State Planning Coordination,” he said.

In the meantime, he said, county officials should defer consideration of any new proposed map amendments.

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