Sussex council, P&Z commission workshop set Sept. 21

Officials will take serious review of development standards, including tree preservation
September 15, 2023

Grassroots citizens groups in the Lewes area are gearing up for a Sussex County Council-Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission workshop scheduled for 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21, at the county's Emergency Operations Center, 21911 Rudder Land, near Georgetown.

The groups are getting the word out about their priorities. Sussex Preservation Coalition and Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth representatives spoke during council's Sept. 12 public comment session.

Among the groups' concerns are forest preservation, useable open space and protection of wetlands and waterways.

During the workshop, it's expected Sussex officials will do a comprehensive review of development design standards relating to open space, buffers, forest preservation, superior design and other standards in cluster subdivisions.

Ultimately, changes in ordinances and code could be made.

The workshop is open to the public, but no public comments can be made.

“It's time to elevate critical issues for much-needed change in the zoning code to protect our natural resources,” said Sussex Preservation Coalition President Jane Gruenebaum.

A recently completed tree survey conducted by the coalition shows that 98% of the 2,500 respondents feel that Sussex officials must take action to preserve trees.

In a recent Gazette commentary, Gruenebaum said 36,000 acres of trees have been lost since 1987, or about 1,000 acres per year. In addition, county population has risen 80% since 1990. “Natural resources for wildlife and human health are important and must be protected,” she said.

Among those critical areas are forests, wetlands, ponds and waterways, she added.

“This review process will take many months, and those who support smart growth must remain vigilant during this long process. We face powerful forces in opposition to meaningful change. We must continually let council members know where we stand. We cannot let this opportunity for change pass us by,” she said.

Council, commission priorities

County Administrator Todd Lawson, making a presentation during council's July 18 meeting, said among issues identified as priorities by council include a better definition of open space, including what type of activities and structures are allowable. Currently, active and passive uses are permitted, as are pools and recreation areas.

Another initiative is a review of cluster subdivision superior design standards, including options to allow for greater flexibility and better design, and improved perimeter buffer protection.

Perimeter buffers are a hot-button issue for council and the public. Currently, developers are permitted to clear-cut woods to the property line and then replant a minimum 20-foot perimeter buffer.

Related to that is the placement of limit-of-disturbance lines along perimeters of subdivisions where no construction or tree removal can occur. Lawson said that area should be clearly shown on all plans and followed by the builders.

Planning & zoning commissioners listed the following initiatives: site-work requirements, forest assessment as a pre-site work requirement, forest preservation incentives, a meadow option for open space, state versus county street standards, restricting subdivision amenities that are separated by roads, and transfer of development rights.

Perhaps a clear picture of future

Speaking for Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth, Rich Borrasso said citizens are looking for a tree preservation ordinance. Currently, the only standard in county code deals with trees within buffers. There is nothing to prevent clear-cutting of a property prior to development.

He said every jurisdiction near Sussex County – including Kent and New Castle counties – has a tree preservation ordinance. “What’s different about Sussex County?” he asked.

He said residents will get a clearer picture of what Sussex officials envision for the future of the county and whether they will choose to be reactive or proactive.

During a Sept. 12 Sussex Preservation Coalition meeting, former councilman and planning & zoning commissioner I.G. Burton said people will get a chance to peek into the thought process and see what officials are concerned with and not concerned with.

“We are all looking for solutions. How do you develop and conserve? And what can you live with?” he asked.


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