Sussex council needs to set priorities quickly

October 27, 2023

Following a joint workshop with the planning & zoning commission, Sussex County Council is tasked with setting priorities on possible county code amendments relating to housing development.

The list has about 40 suggestions.

It's no secret that forest preservation is top of the list for many grassroots organizations, and it should be among council’s priorities. Unfortunately, it may be one of the hardest issues to tackle, due to the complexity of balancing property rights with what the public wants.

Because there is no preservation requirement now, property owners and builders can clear-cut forests to make way for development. Changing the rules is going to be a heavy lift, as Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson said.

It's important for council to show meaningful progress as soon as possible. Tackling superior design elements required for cluster subdivisions and updating open-space regulations could be addressed first.

We agree that superior design actually needs to be superior, with enhancements to protect natural resources, provide sufficient buffers, integrate subdivisions into the existing landscape and provide features such as parks, sidewalks and trails. Developers get 7,500-square-foot lots in cluster subdivisions compared to 20,000-square-foot lots in standard projects. They should provide superior design for that bonus.

Under the current open space definition, stormwater ponds, regardless of size, are counted in the 30% minimum open space required for all cluster subdivisions. We urge council to consider an amendment to eliminate or at least limit how much stormwater ponds count as open space.

Another priority should be perimeter buffer regulations. Currently, many are open to interpretation. We urge council to adopt standards for native plantings, selective cutting and timing for buffer construction. Using existing vegetation and trees should be mandatory. The minimum width should be expanded from 20 feet to at least 30, with protection for existing trees and their root systems.

Another issue that confounds P&Z commissioners concerns subdivisions built on two sides of one road with amenities only on one side. Council needs to seriously consider the safety aspects of having community members crossing roads to get to their pool and clubhouse.

Sussex council has a lot of work ahead, and it’s going to take time, but the effort will be well spent to improve subdivisions in the county.


  • 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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