Wetlands, buffers group works to update regulations

Phase 1 to rewrite code definitions in county code has been completed
April 15, 2019

Now that the wetlands and buffers working group has tackled Phase 1 of its mission to draft updated definitions to amend county code, their sights are set on Phase 2 to use the new definitions to create regulations that protect county resources.

Key among the new draft definitions is a proposal to define a buffer as a managed area between land uses, natural resources or other features.

Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson said the group has changed definitions for buffers, tidal and nontidal wetlands, perennial nontidal waters and streams, and intermittent and ephemeral streams.

At an April 2 Sussex County Council meeting, Lawson told county council that the real work of the group now begins. “We are going down a new path, and I'm encouraged by that. How do we use the definitions to protect the resources that we've described?” he asked. “Resources could mean streams or tidal and nontidal wetlands. We will talk about what if any buffers should be recommended to county council.”

Councilman I.G. Burton of Lewes asked Lawson if council would adopt the new definitions.

Lawson said eventually, the working group will compile recommendations for changes to the current ordinance and present them to county council for consideration. Public hearings before the planning and zoning commission and council will also be scheduled.

“Today's code as it relates to buffers, wetlands and streams really is not working and needed to be updated,” Lawson said. “At a minimum, this working group set out to create new definitions that everyone with a stake in this could agree on.”

Under current regulations, the county requires 50-foot buffers from tidal wetlands and streams.

Lawson said one decision left to council would be to determine whether changes are needed in the width of buffers.

The group of stakeholders, including scientists, land-use consultants, farmers, developers and environmental group representatives, was appointed by county council to review the county's wetlands and buffers regulations and definitions. The group has so far met four times.

Lawson stressed that county council would have the final say on any changes. Burton had pushed council for reforms.







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