What is too big for residential zones?

May 29, 2017

Sussex County Council is considering plans to replace and expand Midway Fitness and Racquetball, located in a commercial area, with a facility more than five times larger on an unusually big, 6-acre lot – but in a residential area, on Savannah Road, outside Lewes.

Plans for Gateway Motion and Fitness, with its racquetball courts, pool and a heated therapy pool and other therapeutic space, would bring welcome additions to services available in the Cape Region. Our large and growing population of aging residents, plus our active community of athletes, combine for a large number of frequent users of physical therapy and fitness services.

The project has been revised since first proposed; Sussex County Planning Commission has recommended to council approval of the revised plans.

Parking, traffic and lighting are among many concerns people living near the proposed facility have raised.

Still, the most critical issue facing council is simply the project's size.

Should 1.3 acres of space be placed under roof in a residential area? At 56,600 square feet, the building would nearly cover the space of an entire football field, including both end zones.

Sussex County Council may be reluctant to deny these plans, having been challenged in federal court after it denied a conditional use for an earlier office building on Savannah Road, where numerous other conditional-use requests had been granted for professional offices.

It's a challenge county officials lost.

But council must be vigilant against overreacting to that earlier lawsuit.

If county officials approve a building this large in an agricultural-residential zone, how could it then deny any future building?

Approving a facility of this size will set a new precedent. It will effectively mean large, non-residential buildings can be built not only in commercial areas, but also in areas zoned agricultural-residential – effectively calling into question the whole point of zoning.

If council allows this building by conditional use, it may well unleash a flood of conditional-use requests for large buildings alongside farms and neighborhoods all over Sussex, virtually rendering our zoning maps pointless.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.