Sussex County discusses extending land-use applications

The Sussex County Council this week discussed how to address land-use application approvals scheduled to expire on Jan. 1, 2016, after the County’s staff had received fewer than 10 requests for extensions but with many more projects approved but not yet completed.

“We, as County staff … have been contacted by less than 10 developments or representatives of developments seeking an extension of what is to be the expiration of their current application,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson, noting that in prior years the Council had elected to extend some applications that were set to expire.

Lawson said the County’s legal staff was asked about the process and responded that, because time extension was granted by ordinance, only Sussex County Council has the authority to consider such request for extensions. Such requests should be directed to the council and be placed as an agenda item in an upcoming meeting.

Lawson said that if the council chose to extend any applications, it would be strictly on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s going to be up to county council if it should be granted and for how long,” he said.

Councilman George Cole asked if the requests could be made after the approvals expired.

“I think the best practice would be beforehand and not look at the issue after the fact… Anyone wanting that or needing that should apply now,” said County Solicitor J. Everett Moore.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she was concerned about granting such extensions, especially with the growth taking place in her district.

“I don’t want these units proposed to be built under old code,” she said. “If you want to let them do this, make them bring it up to code. There was a reason for the expiration. A good reason… As far as I’m concerned, this would be one of the worst things we could do.”

Councilman Rob Arlett queried as to how many applications staff was referring to, to which Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank responded that there were more than 200.

“If there are 200-some applications out there, of those, how many are dormant?” asked Arlett.

“I would say probably 30 to 40 percent are totally dormant, with no activity,” responded Lank.

“We were not operating under the assumption that this would be a blanket extension for all applications set to expire,” clarified Lawson. “This would simply be by a case-by-case basis. [The requests received are] actively trying to be at the stage of final but they may or may not make it by the end of the year.”

Deaver said that, with the pace of development, she would like to see a way to better inform people who are looking to move to the area about upcoming development. Lank said those individuals are welcome to contact the County offices or visit the County’s website.

Moore noted that there has been “turmoil” recently regarding a court case involving the Delaware Natural Resources & Environmental Control and soil conservation standards.

“I’ve received calls from many attorneys who deal with land use that are concerned because they have clients that are in the pipeline with projects now, that are ready to get the approvals and are caught up in this and it’s going to cause some delays,” he explained. “We may see an influx of requests because certain projects getting caught up because of the new regulations. I just want to put this on the radar screen of council.

“There may be situations where, through no fault of their own because of this court battle and this agency approval, they may not be able to meet the deadline. Again, that would be something they would come in on a case-by-case basis and show council ‘here’s what happened and here’s why.’”

Lawson said those who apply for an extension, or to have the expiration suspended must provide the County with a number of items, including proof of agency approvals and timelines.

“People that are in this situation are aware that they’re in this situation and they see the end of the line coming. So they are actively reaching out to the County,” he added. “They’ll usually proffer they’re a certain amount of days, months out before they’re able to get final.”

Arlett said that, in the future, with such requests, he would hope the applicant would come before the council with their request. Moore said that, typically, the applicant or their legal counsel would do so, in order to answer any questions the council may have about the request.

Another issue addressed at Tuesday’s council meeting was that County Councilman Sam Wilson was in Christiana Hospital after suffering a stroke on Oct. 16.

“Councilman Wilson fell at home Friday and had a stroke,” said Council President Michael Vincent. “He’s in good spirits; I’ve talked to him…

“He’s in a great hospital with great doctors. He’s going to be doing some rehab and will be home as soon as he can… We ask the public to keep the Wilson family in your prayers.”

On other County news:

• Mark Isaacs, director of the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, presented an update to the council.

“On behalf of the University of Delaware, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Council for their continued annual support of all of our programs out of the Carvel Research Center.”

Isaacs said that all money provided by the County stays in Sussex County. The monies granted are used to support the 4-H program, Master Gardener program, family consumer science programs, poultry research and crops research programs.

“That’s really important from the standpoint that a lot of the problems that are specific to Sussex County, as far as production agriculture, you can’t get grant funds to support those because they’re not bio-techy.”

• Sussex County Council will not meet next Tuesday, Oct. 27. The next council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 3 at 10 a.m.