New ordinances should move Sussex County forward toward having better land use codes. The draft master plan zoning ordinance, as presented at the recent County Council hearing, moves us backward, with its vague terms (such as “wherever possible”), lack of forest retention requirements and lack of site work regulations.
Our county does not have — or intend to have — county parks. Any ordinance that contains a residential area must provide sufficient open space and recreation opportunities for residents. The workforce housing ordinance, with 12 housing units/acre, requires 50% open space. The cluster subdivision portion of the County Code requires 30% open space. The proposed MPZ ordinance, with 12 units/acre, requires 10% open space. Wait, only 10% open space required? Yes, lines 252-261 of the draft ordinance state that permanent, publicly accessible open space must comprise a minimum of 10%.
One move in the positive direction in this ordinance is that it requires at least one-half of the minimum required open space to be free of wetlands or areas containing permanently standing water for stormwater management (meaning stormwater ponds). In the Preliminary Land Use Service review, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control recommends that 100% of the required open space be free of wetlands or areas containing permanently standing water for stormwater management. DNREC further states that “open space may consist of forested areas,” which should be added to this section.
The illustration of an example of an MPZ site plan shown to County Council at the hearing contained a very large amount of open space, much greater than 10%. This was extremely misleading to anyone looking at the illustration. In fact, that illustration has been calculated to have 42% open space.
When the county gives the developers greater residential density and an ordinance that only requires one set of hearings instead of the many that would be currently required, the county must get something back in return. So, lines 252-261 should be amended to:
“Permanent, publicly accessible open space must be a minimum of 45%, and 100% of the required open space should be free of wetlands or areas containing permanently standing water for stormwater management. Open space may consist of forested areas.”
This draft ordinance is riddled with other problems and vague language. It uses the term “superior design,” when it has not been specified in code what this term means. It was one of the items identified in the Sept. 21 joint workshop of the County Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission as needing clarification. This ordinance should not go forward without clarification of that term. This is especially important since the master plan design guidelines, once approved, will prevail over Chapter 115 and Chapter 99 (lines 227-229).
The county already has codes that allow for mixed residential and commercial sites, such as C-4 (planned commerce) and RPC (residential planned community). What is the force pushing council to vote on the zoning ordinance before the end of the year? If a vote must be taken on this ordinance prior to the end of the year, council must vote no and not approve it.
Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.