Calculate density on land, not marshes

August 17, 2018

The Cape Gazette has long advocated for wider natural buffers separating waterways and wetlands from developed areas in new communities. Sussex County has been much slower to recognize the environmental and quality-of-life benefits from the wider buffers required by Kent and New Castle counties.

Wider buffers would provide greater protection for water quality in the hundreds of miles of streams, creeks, and rivers that riddle Sussex. They would also ensure the long-term legacy of the ever-present treelines that give natural definition to our flat landscape. Further, wider buffers would provide greater natural corridors to connect our larger preserves of open spaces and offset shrinking wildlife habitat.

We applaud Sussex Councilman I.G. Burton's efforts on behalf of wider buffers in Sussex.

Burton has also opened discussion of another important land-use issue. The county's permissive agricultural-residential zoning (AR-1) allows property owners to develop their land, by right, with two housing units per acre. A 100-acre field can be developed to a density of 200 units as long as each lot is no smaller than 7,500 square feet. Each acre is roughly 42,000 square feet, so there's no problem fitting 200 of those 7,500-square-foot lots on that 100-acre field, along with roads, setbacks, sidewalks, buffers and other development requirements.

But what about a 100-acre parcel half buildable land and half unbuildable marsh or swamp? Common sense would say calculate the two units per acre on the buildable land, but for decades, that's not how Sussex planners have interpreted the zoning code. The calculation has instead been on total acreage, buildable or not. The only condition is that units have to fit on the buildable acreage while meeting other requirements.

Discussion of this issue is long overdue, and in the meantime, the result is greater density on buildable land, and in many cases, congestion of roadways. Developers should be able to develop on buildable land. Marshes, swamps and other unbuildable acreage should be excluded from the calculation.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, Publisher Emeritus, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, Sports Editor Emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, Associate Editor; Nick Roth, Sports Editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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