Urbanization does not mean deforestation

September 17, 2021

“The purpose of these districts is to provide for a full range of agricultural activities and to protect agricultural lands, as one of the county's most valuable natural resources, from the depreciating effect of objectionable, hazardous and unsightly uses. They should also protect established agricultural operations and activities. These districts are also intended for protection of watersheds, water resources, forest areas and scenic values and, at the same time, to provide for low-density single-family residential development, together with such churches, recreational facilities and accessory uses as may be necessary or are normally compatible with residential surroundings.”Sussex County zoning code, purpose of Agricultural/Residential districts


The urbanization of Sussex County, proceeding rapidly around us, began in the 1960s with the advent of zoning. The greatest amount of land in Sussex was given, by far, the AR-1 agricultural/residential zoning designation mentioned above. That broad-sweeping designation allows, by right, use of land for farming and houses. Generally speaking, the residential aspect of the AR-1 zone permits two units of housing per acre.

With adoption of that zoning, Sussex County set the table for development and urbanization. As the twig is bent, so inclines the tree; or, in this case, so go the trees.

Much of the county’s best farmland, thankfully, is being preserved. However, that is moving development pressure to less-desirable agricultural land, which in Sussex has traditionally meant woods and forests, often along natural waterways. And so comes the conflict with the purpose statement above noting these districts are also intended for “protection of watersheds, water resources, forest areas and scenic values.” 

Those ever-present treelines are the defining natural feature of Sussex County’s landscape. They are being lost, and with them go not only their scenic and oxygen-enriching value, but also their importance for our watersheds.

What’s missing, of course, is the protection clearly articulated in the purpose statement.

Urbanization requires tough, enlightened and professional planning to achieve balance. That’s possible, even exciting, but not without stricter adherence to the protection component that is being lost in the rush for development. 

  • 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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