The Sussex County Council this week agreed to changes in its Memorandum of Understanding with the Delaware Department of Transportation, after hearing an overview.

Mark Cote, director of planning for DelDOT, and Vince Robinson, assistant county attorney, explained changes to the council.

Robinson said the MOU will look different because it’s has been reorganized and is now easier to understand, but there are not a lot of substantive changes.

He explained that changes were made based on public input DelDOT received, including comment heard at a Jan. 28 public hearing.

He reminded council members the MOU “is more about coordination and exchange of information, not a rewrite of DelDOT’s regulations or the county’s zoning code.”

It is not a code change but an agreement for process and procedure, Robertson said.

The revised MOU contains a checklist of what is required prior to a hearing on land use, so county council agenda items don’t have to be tabled until all that information is ready.

According to information provided by DelDOT, under the new memorandum, DelDOT officials would “pay for and provide a preliminary traffic analysis for residential land-use applications to determine the traffic impact of a development if impact would be diminutive, negligible, minor or major.”

“That finding would trigger three possible actions — a traffic-impact study for major impacts and a traffic-operational analysis or a fee charged to developers for an area-wide study for negligible or minor impacts,” according to the information.

DelDOT staff would have up to 20 working days to complete the analysis. County officials could not consider an application until an analysis is provided.

No public hearing would be conducted until Sussex County officials receive an approved traffic-impact study from DelDOT, approved traffic-operational analysis from DelDOT, fee in lieu of road improvements approved by DelDOT or the application has been determined to have a diminutive impact.

Robertson had earlier stated that the upgraded MOU will give county officials transportation information earlier in the land-use application process, and county officials will continue to control land use.

He said the MOU is adopted by resolution and considered part of the record.

Sussex County Councilman John Rieley told the Coastal Point that the public hearing on changes to the MOU, originally written in 1988, resulted in “a lot of discussion and recommended changes, like the expectations each of us can have of the other.”

“How do we approach things? What can you expect out of us? What can we expect out of you? It is just a way to improve our working relationship and communication. It hasn’t been updated since 1988. It would be wise to update it more frequently,” he said.

Rieley said council members are committed to improving their working relationship with DelDOT and making it more productive.

“They control the roads. We control land use, and that’s where the disconnect comes in. If you’re not talking to each other, there is no coordination at all. Not that we will be coordinated perfectly now, but better communication will help,” Rieley said.

Cote and Robinson, speaking to the county council on Tuesday, March 10, said the new document includes “updates to reflect changing conditions over the past three decades.”

They include clarified definitions, master planning, clearer definitions of a traffic-impact study, traffic operational analysis and area-wide study, phasing, intersection level-of-service requirements and more emphasis on the traffic-impact study review letter provided by DelDOT officials, according to details provided by DelDOT.

Those speaking at the public hearing included traffic engineer Betty Tustin, who suggested county officials “put the past aside and start new.”

“Send it back to Planning & Zoning to rewrite it and get more public comment. It needs to be written so all can understand it,” she said, according to a document provided by DelDOT.

Long Neck developer Robert Tunnell offered a draft he said was better organized.

“The County must execute its responsibilities, exercise its authority and fully develop its capabilities to best leverage the MOU as an instrument to help protect, preserve and enhance public welfare and safety,” said Rich Borrasso of Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.