Sussex officials say mature buffer trees can be saved

More attention to specific subdivision approval conditions is a first step
August 3, 2020

Sussex County officials admit they can do a better job ensuring that mature trees are preserved for 20-foot forested/vegetated buffers required around the perimeters of new subdivisions.

Reacting to complaints from the public about clear-cutting of mature trees, Sussex County Councilman Doug Hudson of Dagsboro requested that the issue be placed on council's July 14 agenda.

Hudson said trees of a certain size should not be cut down within a forested buffer area. Some developers clear-cut properties and then replant buffers.

“I'm seeking guidance and direction on how our regulations can get stronger that are reasonable for everyone. It's not about taking away property rights but helping to preserve our way of life in Sussex County,” he said.

Assistant county attorney Vince Robertson said Chapter 99 of county codes spells out buffer requirements. “The planning and zoning commission has been paying more attention to keeping existing native forest in subdivisions,” he said.

Only the planning and zoning commission reviews and votes on subdivisions, not county council.

Robertson said preservation of existing mature trees can be spelled out clearly in conditions of approval, which are part of the public record listed on the final site plan.

“We can always be clearer and say exactly what is expected of a developer. That's the first step we can take,” Robertson said.

Sussex County Planning and Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse said developers meet with staff before subdivision applications surface at public hearings. “There are further steps we can take to emphasize increasing quality of design. There is more discussion we can have,” he said.

“It's incumbent on staff and the planning and zoning commission to better document what is discussed,” Robertson said.

Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton of Lewes said sometimes it's months before a subdivision receives preliminary and final approval. “Do we have a good check system?” he asked.

Whitehouse replied that planning and zoning staff check all conditions of approval to ensure they are followed. “It's recorded so there is no confusion what the conditions are,” he said.

“It takes a long time for new growth. If we can preserve and still develop, that's a good thing,” Burton said.

In the past, Burton has pushed for wider forested buffers around subdivisions.

Wetland buffers are also a topic of conversation among Sussex officials. Council is awaiting a draft ordinance on updated wetland buffer regulations developed by a working group.



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