Overriding an affirmative recommendation from the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission, members of Sussex County Council voted 3-2 to deny a request by the owners of Eagle Crest Aerodrome near Milton to amend the 2018 county comprehensive plan and change the land designation of the airport on the future land-use map.
Owners Christian and Jamie Hudson are requesting that the map be amended to show the use as industrial, not low density, and to amend the existing map from utilities and recreation usage to industrial usage. They are also requesting airport icons be placed on the map in Chapter 13 of the plan so that Eagle Crest is recognized as a private airport, which it has been since 1952.
They claim changes were made in error in the 2018 plan.
The 2008 comprehensive plan designated the use as industrial and it was changed in the 2018 plan. All private airports are designated as utilities and recreation usage.
Eagle Crest Aerodrome is located on Eagle Crest Road off Route 1 at Hudson Fields.
At its Oct. 13 meeting, the planning & zoning commission recommended approval of the proposed changes.
A larger issue
The debate over the request has brought up a broader issue that includes all private airports, and how they should be designated and depicted on county planning maps.
Public airports – Delaware Coastal in Georgetown and Laurel Airport – are the only ones noted on county maps. There are at least seven private airstrips in the county.
During a Nov. 15 meeting, council members agreed that all airports in the county need to be designated on the existing and future land-use maps to aid in land-use applications, and the three councilmen who voted against the request asked county staff to take a more comprehensive look at all airports.
Council President Mike Vincent questioned why the land needed to be designated as industrial. “Do we make all airports the same? Do we do this for other airports in the county?” he asked. “It would be inconsistent to change this and not others to industrial use. It's AR-1 land and I don't see placing industrial usage on an airstrip.”
Sussex County Planning & Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse said the change from the 2008 to the 2018 plan was done to remove industrial usage from private airports. “It was not done in error,” he said. “But we do need to look at this in more detail.”
Councilman Mark Schaeffer, who made a motion for approval of the changes, said industrial designation on the future land-use map is not the same as industrial zoning. He said the designation clearly defines what has been taking place at the airport for decades. “An error was made in the 2018 plan,” he said.
“If this ordinance is denied, will it take away any rights of the homeowners who use the airport?” Schaeffer asked.
Assistant county attorney Vince Robertson said it would not change the current use, and homeowners with planes have permanent easements to use the airport.
Councilwoman Cindy Green, who also voted for the changes, said, “This is one of the largest airstrips in Sussex County and no other airport is asking for this. We should start with this one, and then we can add all other airports in the future.”
“If all airports were designated as industrial, it would be a different picture,” said Councilman Doug Hudson, who voted against the changes.
Councilman John Rieley, who also cast a no vote, said the changes would lead to inconsistencies on the county's planning maps.
“I don't think we should treat anyone different than anyone else,” Vincent added. “We need a holistic approach to look at all airports. We can't amend this ordinance to include all of them. If we address one, it's unfair to the rest of them.”
“All airports are not covered by this ordinance. It's just the one area of land,” Robertson said. “It would be helpful in planning to indicate where all airports are.”