Bethany court can exceed MR density rules

Sussex County council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to zone six units on about 1.28 acres of land near Bethany, allowing Bethany Court LLC to exceed the maximum density set for a MR, Medium Density Residential District.

Bethany Republican George Cole cast the only dissenting vote on Tuesday, saying the ruling sets a precedent that would allow applicants to exceed density restrictions.

Bethany Court LLC will now have to return to the Planning and Zoning Commission and to state agencies for site-plan approvals for the six units, east of Route 1 in Tower Shores.

“It sends a message,” Cole said of the decision. “It is a very fragile area. To put additional density in there is not acting responsibly.”

The six units on 1.28 acres amounts to 4.7 units an acre, exceeding the allowed density of about four per acre in the MR-district, according to Lawrence Lank, Sussex County’s planning and zoning director.

Lank said, though, that applicants applying for conditional use in the MR district can ask for and be granted up to 12 units per acre. Cole’s fellow councilman, including Republican Vance Phillips and Democrat Dale Dukes — who called the decision “not earth-shattering” — denounced his claims that the ruling would set a precedent.

“Despite the ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric … this is not excessive,” Phillips said. “The notion that this is going to destroy the environment is just playing games.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission, which deferred a decision on the conditional-use application, made an April 13 recommendation on the application that carried several conditions. That recommendation, which was presented to council by Lank on Tuesday, called for only five units to be zoned. But council ultimately approved six, ruling in favor of the applicant, which cited neighboring zoning rulings in its presentation.

Presenters on behalf of Bethany Court LLC noted in that presentation that the Atlantic Watergate project was developed at 12.1 units per acre, Indian Harbor Villas was zoned at 15.7 units per acre and the Tower Shores subdivision was zoned at 5.9 units per acre, according to Lank’s report on Tuesday.

That report also noted that the Breakwater Beach subdivision was developed as 2.7 units per acre and the Zacharias Cove Subdivision was developed at 1.5 units per acre. The plan, also according to Lank’s report, would include a 600-foot walkway to the beach if approved by DNREC. Also, two sections of wetlands totaling about 3,600 square feet would be left undisturbed if the project is approved as presented.

Despite the “environmentally-sensitive” nature of this application, no one stood in support or opposition of the plan at the commission’s meeting, according to the record.