County introduces new clustering amendment

Sussex County Council members spent most of the Dec. 13 council meeting wrangling with parking, but they did cover some land use issues, too. The county has set a moratorium on new clustered subdivisions, and Council Member Vance Phillips introduced another possible adjustment on Tuesday.

As it stands, the Cluster Subdivision Ordinance allows developers to build on smaller lots, if they agree to reserve 30 percent of the total acreage as open space. This would be by right, like standard subdivision, with no hearing before council.

On a sidebar, the ordinance includes language relating to “superior design,” but the county Planning and Zoning (P&Z) commission hasn’t had much luck enforcing those guidelines. Commissioners are well-equipped to handle technical reviews but have faced legal challenges on decisions applicants consider subjective.

Council Member George Cole has opposed the ordinance from the beginning. He initiated reconsideration of it in recent months by introducing an amendment to prohibit clustering outside the development districts (town centers and their surrounds).

At that same time, Council Member Dale Dukes voiced an opinion that seemed to gather consensus — developers were successfully using the cluster ordinance to increase the number of homes in their projects, and that hadn’t been the intent, Dukes pointed out.

He recommended an up-front, 25-percent reduction to gross acreage before developers could make their density calculations. This would make clustered subdivisions more like residential planned communities (RPCs), where things like roads and sidewalks are subtracted from the gross acreage.

But Dukes did not agree with Cole that clustering was inappropriate outside the development districts — and Phillips went a step further.

Per his amendment introduced Dec. 13, developers could continue to cluster outside the development districts — but could receive bonus densities for building within a town center, a developing area or an Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area instead.

But that option would come at a price. Phillips had recommended developers pay $10,000 per extra residential unit on Dec. 6. He upped that to $15,000 per unit in the western towns, and $20,000 per extra unit in the central and eastern county (locally, in the county lands around Millsboro, Dagsboro, Frankford and Selbyville).

The funds would go to the Sussex County Land Trust (SCLT) “for the purpose of creating open space preservation/active and passive recreation areas.”

Council would need to approve any SCLT expenditures by a four-fifths majority.

“This is just another plan to get more development into development districts that are already under assault,” Cole countered.

In other business, council considered John Parker’s application for a change of zone, from Agricultural-Residential (AR-1) to Commercial (C-1), on three adjacent parcels (north of Dagsboro, on Route 20).

Parker’s commercial development adjacent to the AR lands in question currently hosts more than a dozen different businesses — the change of zone would pave the way for a few more.

Delores Dorman, with a home neighboring the property, waited through three hours of discussion over the parking ordinances to lodge her opposition.

While the other end of Parker’s business park adjoins Route 113, Dorman said the parcels in question were in more of a residential area. She said she’d moved to her current address more than 50 years ago and had adjusted to the businesses next door since the county first rezoned some of Parker’s lands as commercial, nine years ago.

But she opposed any additional rezoning. “I don’t see how warehouses would enhance our neighborhood,” Dorman said. “I think Mr. Parker would be the only one to benefit.”

Council deferred action, awaiting a recommendation from the P&Z.

Later in the evening, council approved Samuel Connors’ application for conditional use in Jim Town (near Georgetown), and received an earful for doing so. Rosalyn Echols strongly opposed Connors’ proposed business (powerwashing, landscaping).

She’d originally lodged complaints at the Oct. 27 hearing before the P&Z. There were several other Jim Town residents operating businesses in contradiction of the residential zoning, and this would set a bad precedent, she said.

Council Member Vance Phillips called it a good illustration of the dilemma council members faced, trying to find a balance between supporting individual members of a community and encouraging a community’s economy.