On July 26, Sussex County Council set a wonderful example of how requests for zoning changes can be managed to advance the conservation of natural areas.
A 22-acre parcel near Love Creek Elementary School, that contains an important forest, was requested for an up-zone to Medium Density Residential. The forest here is splendid, with large, mature trees that provide excellent wildlife habitat. The forest is also contiguous with and protective of the Hetty Fisher Pond, a type of wetland that supports rare plants and animals.
Forests in this area are disappearing fast — just when they are needed most to address increasing pollution, flooding and climate change. Decisive action is needed to stem forest loss. And that is just what County Council did when they unanimously decided to ask the requesting developer to come back with a plan that protected the entire forest. Protecting entire forests is important because larger contiguous blocks of woodlands are more valuable to wildlife than smaller fragments.
This type of solution can be sought at every opportunity by both Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission as a means to save forests and wetlands not otherwise protected. When done with bold strokes, it is a proven way to focus development on the least environmentally sensitive areas of a parcel while preserving its most valuable features.
The Council has set a great example and is thanked profusely. It is hoped that complementary county-wide policy to protect forests can be developed and that this type of site-specific approach to conservation can be expanded.