Sullivan Schulte: In Sussex, land (mis)use is out of control


In Sussex County, the pace of development has now outgrown the ability of many of us to differentiate one project from another. It seems that that may be also true of those people working on land use in the county.

Take, for instance, the Grayrock Preserve subdivision, surrounded by the southern portion of Redden State Forest, where 94 units of new homes are proposed.

At the public hearing Aug. 10, two foresters from the Department of Agriculture spoke against it, on behalf of the secretary of agriculture, who was out of town. Kyle Hoyd and Chris Miller’s reasons for opposing the project included:

  • The Redden forest near the proposed site is a habitat for several breeding pairs of tiger salamanders, an endangered species, and they are likely living in this area.
  • It is a groundwater recharge area.
  • If the subdivision is approved, 35 acres of forest around the subdivision will be cut down to provide a firebreak.
  • There are federally granted and ranked Legacy Forests on the south and north end of this parcel.

In addition, this site is located in the state’s Investment Strategy Tier 4, where the state opposes development because it does not plan to invest in infrastructure.

The Preliminary Land Use Service review of this parcel reads:

“Development of this site may be environmentally inappropriate as it contains the following environmental features of statewide significance that are incompatible with dense development activities:

  • • The forested portion of the parcel is located within a state Natural Areas designation (Redden Natural Area). Natural Areas contain lands of statewide significance identified by the Governor’s Natural Areas Advisory Council as containing high quality natural features unique to Delaware. Additionally, the forested portion of this site is part of an area identified as Key Wildlife Habitat in the Delaware Wildlife Action Plan.”

In spite of this, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved it Aug. 25 without any regard to the foresters’ opposition, citing the landowner rights to build two units per acre in the agriculture-residential zone where there are other subdivisions. Those other subdivisions are not surrounded on three sides by the Redden forest like Grayrock is.

Delaware Code’s Title 9, Chapter 69 contains codes regarding Sussex County’s zoning law. Subchapter II is titled “The Quality of Life Act (of 1988).” Section 61(b) reads in part:

“If the planning agency makes recommendations that are in conflict with the information supplied by the state and local agencies or local school districts, it must explain its reasons for doing so in writing.”

So what are P&Z’s reasons to approve Grayrock in conflict with PLUS comments? What are its reasons to approve subdivisions in Investment Tier 4 in general? About 4,300 units have been approved since 2018 exclusively in Tier 4 or out-of-play areas in Sussex County; another 1,400 units were partially in 3 and 4. Where are the reasons (in writing) for these approvals?

The timing for immediate consideration of this issue is critical in light of another 3,000 units in the Tier 4 pipeline.

Linda Sullivan Schulte


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