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Sussex P&Z says apartment conversion is illegal

Commissioners recommend time for tenants to find new housing
January 27, 2020

Story Location:
20797 Sunset Lane
Lewes  Delaware  19958-1635
United States

Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission wants to slam the door on what it called illegal apartments constructed without building permits and proper zoning.

At its Jan. 9 meeting, commissioners recommended denial of two applications filed by Mary and Victor Rico to rezone a less-than-1-acre parcel west of Love Creek bridge from AR-1, agricultural-residential to MR, medium-density residential, and a conditional use for seven multifamily units.

However, the commission also recommended that no action be taken by county enforcement staff until July 1 to allow families living in the apartments at 20797 Sunset Lane time to locate new housing.

“I'm concerned about the total disregard for county zoning by the applicant, but I'm also concerned for these innocent families who relied upon the applicant leasing out what they likely thought were legal apartment units,” said Commissioner Kim Hoey Stevenson. “The families should not lose housing in the winter time, and we should allow any school-age children time to finish out the school year.”

Five tenants live in the two units.

If the commission's recommendation is upheld by Sussex County Council, Rico may have to convert the units back to single-family houses.

During testimony at commission's Dec. 12 hearing, Tim Willard, the applicants' attorney, said a violation was issued when Victor Rico inquired about connecting to the county sewer system.

A cesspool, which is pumped out every three weeks, provides septic service to the units. At the hearing, commissioners said Rico should be required to hook into the county sewer system.

Rico purchased the two houses at auction and renovated them into apartments in 2016 and 2017. Although Rico said he was continuing work started in the houses, assistant county attorney Vince Robertson told the commission that the houses were advertised as single-family houses when sold at auction.

Hoey Stevenson said the parcel is less than 1 acre, which includes the access street off Route 24. “It's much too small for stand-alone MR zoning and the density that would be permitted or the seven units this applicant is seeking along with the parking requirements,” she said.

Up to 4 units per acre are permitted in MR zoning while 2 units per acre are permitted in AR-1 zoning.

Sussex County Council will have a public hearing on the applications at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 28, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.