It’s time for Sussex County Council to act to create a “win-win” for all, and use the new Comprehensive Plan to protect our environment and support the local economy.
The Sussex County Council, as well as the Planning & Zoning Commission, have done exceptional work in getting input from the public and developing an updated Comprehensive Plan.
I believe the new plan provides important opportunities to improve the way development is done in the county while also preserving property rights, maintaining building and real estate jobs, and protecting the environment and quality of life, which are the attractions for coming to live in our area. We also recognize, what matters is its timely implementation through promulgation of ordinances by the County Council.
No matter how good the plan is, without appropriate ordinances, it is just another collection of papers.
This is a very special year, because two of our County Council members are leaving and their vacant seats will be filled with newly-elected members. This time of transition creates a special challenge to promulgate new ordinances, because new members will need to learn and it takes time to go through the plan before ordinances are produced.
Therefore, it’s important that the following three areas be addressed between now and the new year by the incumbent County Council members to help assure timely action on these long neglected issues.
• First, we need to fix a big loophole in the current approval process for new developments. Much of the land in Sussex County is zoned AR-1. This means that two houses can be built per acre. The current process of approval allows wetlands on the property to be calculated as buildable lands, although they are not.
We need to have an ordinance that will fix this loophole by excluding wetlands from this calculation from any new development in the future. This will restore the true purpose of AR-1 designation and facilitate building of more attractive homes and communities.
• Second, we need to preserve as many trees as possible and improve the buffer around new developments. The current approval process requires that the developer leave a 20-foot buffer around the development.
It is common practice in the building process that all existing trees are removed and the 20-foot buffer is left with no trees or newly planted ones that will take a long time to mature. This is not good for aesthetics, maintaining habitats or supporting property value.
Generally, a property which backs up to a wooded area is valued more highly, resulting in higher sale and resale prices, and providing higher transfer-tax revenue. By increasing the buffer to 40 feet, it is more feasible to leave existing trees in place, and the space between developments is much more attractive, as well as supportive to wildlife.
We strongly urge the County Council to promulgate an ordinance that will increase the buffer to 40 feet for all new developments more than 5 acres in size.
• Third, according to the federal EPA, our wetlands and waterways are already impaired. There are advisories against swimming there and eating fish caught there. Passing an ordinance to increase the buffer around wetlands from 50 to 100 feet will be the most appropriate action.
New Castle and Kent counties already have 100-foot buffers. This ordinance will create consistency between all three counties, and will preserve and improve habitats for animals and birds, provide flood protection and help prevent further contamination of our waterways. We must recognize that the quality of our waterways and wetlands is fundamental to our local economy, and act accordingly to preserve and protect them.
The purpose of the new Comprehensive Plan is to maintain and improve the quality of life of those who live, work and visit here; we look forward to its prompt implementation. Taken together, passage of all these three ordinances will be a “win-win” situation for all. Properties will become more attractive to new buyers, and their values will improve. This will benefit land owners, developers and construction workers, and the real estate industry. The County will continue to get transfer taxes that it needs.
I am pleased that Council Member I.G Burton is taking the lead on these important issues, and urge all stakeholders to contact their council members and ask for their support. This is also an opportunity for departing Councilman Arlette and retiring Councilman Cole to leave a legacy that will be appreciated by the community and will be remembered by generations to come.
Mohammad N. Akhter