County comprehensive plan approved by state

Sussex County officials received word this week that their update to the county’s comprehensive land-use plan (CLUP) had been officially approved and signed-off on by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

Minner’s signing statement to the county noted that, after she had reviewed the recommendations of the Office of State Planning Coordination and her “Livable Delaware” council, she had decided that the plan – which was adopted earlier this year by the council – does meet the state’s minimum criteria for certification.

That approval did come with some reservations and related requirements, however. The approval is official pending compliance with a series of recommendations, including that:

• The county is to immediately begin working on related ordinances (County Administrator David Baker noted that such work has already begun and is continuing.);

• The county is to consider the recently-passed Pollution Control Strategy for the Delaware Inland Bays as it moves forward with implementation of the comprehensive plan;

• The county is to report to the Office of State Planning every 12 months on the status of the plan, as required by state code; and

• The county must amend its official zoning map to reflect the comprehensive plan.

Credit for the completion and certification of the plan was shared at a Tuesday county council meeting between the council, Baker, county staff and the county Planning & Zoning Commission.

The comprehensive plan update, a state-mandated document that serves as the county’s plan for the next decade, calls for further protecting agriculture, better defining open space, encouraging more affordable housing and enticing developers to build more environmentally friendly projects within developing areas.

“We are pleased the governor has certified the plan and validated what the people of Sussex County and their elected leaders believe is the most appropriate course to take for its future,” Baker said. “I thank the governor, the Advisory Council on State Planning Coordination, state planners Connie Holland and Bryan Hall, the County Council and our staff, our consultant, Paul Driscoll of Urban Research & Development Corp., and most importantly the people of Sussex County for their involvement in this process. So many people have helped us to arrive at this point.”

Delaware law mandates that all counties and municipalities have a comprehensive plan in place to guide their future and that they update those plans every five years. The plans define, among other things, growth zones, land-use policies and how development should progress, potential transportation improvements, historic preservation and economic development efforts.

Sussex County government is expected in the coming months to draft and consider about two dozen ordinances to implement the concepts outlined in the plan. The county has already adopted a revised forested buffer ordinance and a source-water protection ordinance. Others, including ordinances to define open space and superior design, have been proposed and await public hearings.

County Council President Finley B. Jones Jr. said he was pleased to have Minner’s endorsement of the plan so the council and staff can move forward with implementation.

“With the majority of Council leaving office in January, I am thankful that we now have certification and that we can point to this as one of the County Council’s many accomplishments during my tenure,” Jones said. “The incoming council will play a critical role in the process, too, as much of the implementation work will fall to those new members. I am confident they will give careful consideration, and uphold the county’s vision of balancing property rights with planning for responsible growth.”

The 2007 Comprehensive Plan Update is available on the County’s Web site, at

Councilman Dale Dukes commented, on a related note, that he was unhappy with a recent Nature Conservancy article stating opposition of the group to the trade of land for soils on the Nanticoke.

“I hope the council will take that into account the next time they want to partner on anything,” he said. Dukes is one of the three Democratic incumbents on the council who are not running for re-election this year.

County counting its pennies

County council members on Tuesday also received an update on the county’s financial condition, with a review of its finances for the 2009 fiscal year to date. It was emphasized during that report that Baker is currently reviewing all cap expenditure requests for need.

County officials said they expected next year’s budget to be a challenge, especially if the county loses paramedic funding, as some believe will happen. That could result in the loss of a paramedic position for the county’s emergency medical services.

Fiscal conservatism may be the call of the day for the county coffers as the county continues to fight rumored consideration by the state legislature of rescinding its portion of real estate transfer taxes.

“So let’s not buy any more land or hire any more people until the end of the year,” advised Councilman George Cole. “Let’s try that.”

Also on Oct. 28:

• The council unanimously approved disbursement of the full $25,000 allotment from its municipal police grant funds to both Selbyville and Rehoboth Beach, with both towns planning to use the grants to purchase and equip new police vehicles. Selbyville will be purchasing a 2008 Dodge Charger with a police package.

• The council also unanimously approved a $5,000 community development grant for the Town of Millville, to help it start up municipal trash service.

“They’ve got a trash problem,” acknowledged Cole in recommending the grant. “They’re providing a service, and I’d like to help offset some of the startup costs for that service.”

• Council approved the hanging of a memorial plaque for paramedic Stephanie Callaway, who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year. Representatives of the paramedics association Callaway headed and her husband, Steve, appeared before the council on Tuesday in support of the honor. The plaque will hang in the council chambers in Georgetown. The first GiggleMedic 5K run recently raised more than $2,000 for a scholarship in Callaway’s honor.

• The council opted not to add an additional meeting to the remainder of its schedule for 2008, instead choosing to extend a planned Dec. 9 meeting with an early start at 4 p.m., to provide additional time to consider ordinances and other business.

The council is set to hold evening meetings on Nov. 19 and Dec. 9, with daytime meetings on Dec. 2 and 16. County offices will be closed and there will be no county meetings on Nov. 4 (Election Day), Nov. 6 (Return Day) and Nov. 11 (Veteran’s Day).

• The council heard an appeal from the Town of Ellendale that reverses the town’s earlier support for sewer service to a development adjacent to the town. Representatives of Ellendale said the developer had not followed through on stated plans to annex into the town after the county-provided sewer service was approved with its support.

Cole said he could sympathize with the problem.

“Developers are creating problems for these small towns,” he said. “The county provides sewer. The private sector provides water. And there’s no pressure for them to annex into the towns. The towns get a lot of additional expenses.”

Cole questioned whether the county could look at possibly creating legislation that would encourage or force developers to be annexed into towns. But the county solicitor said a resolution to that effect would not be enforceable and an ordinance would overstep the county’s authority.

Dukes offered an alternative, suggesting that towns could agree to annex a development and then ask the county to help with sewer service to the development after it is annexed.

“We don’t have anything to offer them – absolutely nothing to offer them,” Ellendale representatives complained of the current situation.

“We could do something like we just did with Millville,” added Cole, noting that Millville is similar in size to Ellendale, “with growth all around them.”

Cole said the additional tax base would provide the resources the growing towns need, while annexing a developer-owned property would be easier than waiting 10 years or so and trying to annex from multiple individual owners.

“I see your dilemma, but I also see the developer’s dilemma,” said Dukes.