Sussex officials must develop a new mindset
A proposal to build more than 600 homes on 300 acres between Milton and Georgetown drew online comments from hundreds of Cape Gazette readers, many demanding to know how county council could allow so many new homes. This project comes after 651 more units were recently proposed off Banks Road in Long Neck.
Sussex Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings on both projects, but, barring appeals of the commission’s decisions, neither project will go before county council at a public hearing.
That’s because the developer has not requested rezoning or a conditional use. Two houses per acre are permitted on land zoned AR-1, agricultural-residential – as these tracts are. The Cape Gazette has long argued that this zoning, which allows significantly more density than developers can find anywhere else on Delmarva, will at some point threaten the rural vistas and small-town way of life prized by so many.
Based on reader comments, that time is here.
Meanwhile, speakers at a recent summit on sustainability noted the steady stream of building permits issued in Sussex and said ongoing construction increases runoff and diminishes water quality. Even if efforts are made to save trees, as one developer has stated, these projects will remove thousands of them.
“Forests and wetlands are like the kidneys of our landscape, filtering out toxins,” a watershed expert at the summit said.
A consultant recently recommended that Sussex identify areas where our already problematic two-units per acre density could be increased to three units per acre to encourage affordable housing.
Workforce housing is a vital, worthwhile goal. But should council consider increasing density in developed areas, those increases must be offset by reductions somewhere else.
Requiring wider buffers, setting aside more funds to purchase open space, and encouraging the transfer of development rights are all crucial steps council must undertake.
As Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton said at the summit, “We must protect our resources that provide us the quality of life that we all enjoy. This will require a different mindset when it comes to developing land.”