County P&Z defers decision for eagles

Bald eagles threw a monkey-wrench into the works of an eight-lot subdivision planned for Bunting Road west of Dagsboro, near Pepper Creek and Piney Creek, when it came up for review by the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) on Dec. 8.

The six-acre project, applied for under the name of Bunting Road LLC and Bunting Farm, comes in under the county’s cluster subdivision ordinance. Board members expressed little concern with the project overall and appeared prepared to recommend approval for it until mention was made of bald eagles living nearby.

The parcel is has been used as farmland but has not been farmed for a number of years, according to Bunting Road LLC representative Tim Willard and Gary Moore, an engineer on the project for Riverbasin Engineering.

That led board members to question whether the project was part of the “gentrification” of the area, transitioning from agricultural use to residential subdivisions. Willard said it was not — it was just a simple, modest subdivision.

Indeed, applying for the eight-lot cluster subdivision, Willard noted that it was exactly the density allowed for the parcel and that switching from individual septic to central sewer in the plans for the subdivision would have actually allowed even higher density.

The property is itself farmland and contains no trees or wetlands, but it borders a large section of creek bank and an associated treeline. It is near the Assawoman Wildlife Refuge, and Pepper’s and Piney creeks.

That’s where the eagles came into play. The project is in the county’s environmentally sensitive developing district, and board members at the last minute voted to defer action on the application. They left open the record of the hearing until an environmental assessment could be done to determine the project’s potential impact on the birds.

On the project’s plus side, it has 16 percent open space, a 30-foot agricultural buffer and a large stormwater pond — designed to be larger than necessary to manage drainage from two associated lots along the roadway. Board members praised the planned location of the pond, noting it was away from the roadway itself.

The plan also features tree-lined buffers and a long drive. The applicants noted they were not taking out any vegetation. They admitted the project would be taking away farmland, but said the buffer and longer drive were important elements. The on-site septic also already has a permit for each lot signed off by DNREC — one step further than feasibility studies.

Also at the P&Z members unanimously gave preliminary approval to the application of Peter E. Demarie to subdivide 5.06 acres south of Road 353 and west of Road 374 into two lots.

Septic has already been approved for the lots, which were previously subdivided from another parcel of land. They will have a shared entrance from the main road.

Neighbor Bob Riskin noted his opposition to the application and any related residential building in the area, stating his concerns about the ongoing development in that immediate vicinity, on the grounds that a nearby parcel is a Superfund site contaminated with benzene.

Riskin said he was concerned about the direction of flow of any contamination at the site and had been told that residences were not allowed to be built within a certain distance of the site.

Commissioners told Riskin that the commission did not have standing to determine who could or could not build as a result of Superfund sites being in the area.

He replied that, regardless, the county had been informed — with his statement at the Dec. 8 hearing — of the prohibition and the issue. Commissioners took issue with that, questioning his authority to make such an official notice to the county. They pointed him to the Environmental Protection Agency as a venue for oversight on the Superfund issue.

With that element rerouted to the proper authorities, the commissioners voted unanimously to recommend preliminary approval of the subdivision for Demarie.

Closing business for the Dec. 8 meeting, commissioners agreed to hold a special meeting on Jan. 4 to catch up with other business.