from the Cape Gazette, October 5, 2018
by Ron MacArthur
Officials plan workshop to tackle recommendations line-by-line
Sussex County Council still has some work to do.
With 85 comments back from the state's Preliminary Land Use Service review of the 2018 comprehensive plan, officials need to respond back to the state Office of Planning Coordination.
A workshop has been scheduled for 10 a.m., Monday, Oct. 15, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown. Planning and Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell said many of the recommendations are offers of assistance from state agencies to help implement plan strategies. “But there are some we will have to dig in deeper to see what path you want to move forward to address,” she said.
Comments on plan certification are issues that must be addressed, Cornwell said. However, she said, it's up to council to adopt or not adopt recommendations on chapters in the plan.
Lawson said during the workshop, staff will go line-by-line and discuss each recommendation and comment.
A public hearing on the final draft of the plan has been scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 23, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.
State planners said Sussex County is home to many important features such as beaches, wetlands, vast forested areas, and habitats for a wide variety of plant and animal species. “Talking with residents of the county, it is these exact features coupled with the rural farming areas west of the beach areas that brought them here for vacation or retirement living. It is these features that will continue to bring new residents to this area; therefore, it is important that the county balance the need for additional housing with the protection of our most valued resources,” planners wrote.
The planners noted that the Sussex plan's objectives, goals and strategies are aimed at making an effort to find the balance: “It is imperative that the county follow through . . . . to plan to help preserve the environmentally sensitive features in the county and to protect the towns from the burden of growth they have not planned for at this time.”
Affordable housing a key issue
Affordable housing opportunities, especially in coastal Sussex, are one of the key certification issues contained in comments on the future land-use chapter of the plan.
State planners said the future land-use map does not adequately show the distribution, location and extent of the various categories of land use. They said the proposed chapter is prohibitive to medium- and high-density residential development in areas where the acute need for affordable housing is well documented.
Planners said affordable housing development is contingent on land use where medium and higher density is permitted by right, which is currently the case in low-density, AR-1 zoning districts. “Otherwise, considerable public opposition to new development, particularly multifamily, will stop development from proceeding,” planners wrote.
Planners said the county has a powerful land-use mechanism available to permit, if not proactively encourage, medium- and high-density development – 4 to 12 units per acre – which could increase the likelihood for development of affordable housing.
In its review, the Delaware State Housing Authority recommends the county consider a provision for affordable housing as an option for density bonus.
Comments on environmental issues
Many recommendations centered around environmental issues, including wider wetlands buffers, an increased protection zone for public wells, changes to the county open space calculations and revised stormwater runoff regulations.
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control officials support wider buffers along wetlands, streams and waterbodies, and clarification requiring the buffers be vegetated and not landscaped. In addition, DNREC officials said existing native vegetation should be retained where it exists. In addition, officials recommend buffer distances of 50 to 300 feet for adequate protection and buffers of 100 to 500 feet provide for optimal protection. Lot lines, roads and infrastructure should not be placed within buffer zones.
Planners said the plan does not fully describe and address flooding issues in the county. They said the plan should include a discussion of the effects of climate change in flood-prone areas of the county: “Sea-level rise and increasing heavy precipitation events caused by climate change put more residents at risk to flood events and will increase the need for infrastructure upgrades and repairs.”
Water protection issues
DNREC encourages Sussex officials to be proactive, identifying specific strategies to reduce nutrients and bacteria to help restore water quality and beneficial uses – such as fishing and swimming – in the Inland Bays and the Delaware River drainage basins.
In order to restore water quality, DNREC officials recommend a minimum 100-foot upland buffer from all delineated wetlands and waterbodies, including ditches. Other recommendations include a plan to mitigate impervious surfaces and use of green technology stormwater management in lieu of open-water ponds where practicable.
State officials said in order for the county to attain state goals of reducing stormwater runoff, the county should consider new or revised ordinances that encourage green technology such as infiltration or reuse of runoff, porous pavements, rain gardens, green roofs, open vegetated swales and infiltration systems for new development sites.
DNREC officials also said the county should consider modifying how open space in subdivisions is calculated by removing community wastewater treatment areas, open-water stormwater management ponds and areas containing regulated wetlands as open space.
State officials urged county officials to modify the existing source-water protection ordinance, including an increase in the current 20-foot protection zone for wells pumping less than 50,000 gallons per day, the vast majority of public wells in the county. They recommend an increased protection zone of 100 feet to at least 150 feet for wells pumping more than 50,000 gallons per day.
Several steps remain in process
Once all edits and changes have been made to the plan, county officials will resubmit the plan to the Office of State Planning Coordination. Substantial changes to the draft could warrant another PLUS review.
The office will take a maximum of 20 working days to complete its second review of the plan. Provided no additional changes are needed, the plan becomes finalized, pending certification. The office will submit a final comprehensive plan report and its recommendation to the Cabinet Committee on State Planning ssues for its consideration.
Within 45 days, the committee will issue its findings and recommendations to the governor's office for certification. The governor's office will have 20 days to accept the plan for certification or return it to the county for revision.
County officials can accept or reject any or all of the recommendations. However, state planners said the state is not obligated to provide financial assistance or infrastructure improvements to support land-use development actions where the adopted comprehensive plan or portions of it are substantially inconsistent with state development policies.
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