County dealing with application extension requests case by case

GEORGETOWN – Come Jan. 1, 2016, in Sussex County more than 200 land-use applications for subdivisions, residential planned communities and conditional uses are set to expire.

County staff is dealing with requests for time extension individually on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re not operating under the assumption this would be a blanket extension for all applications set to expire. This would simply be a case-by-case basis,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson at the Oct. 19 County Council meeting. “We’ve been asked to extend less than 10 to date.”

In the past several years, County Council chose to extend expiring applications across the board. In 2011, County Council went back to Jan. 1, 2009, extending that to Jan. 1, 2013. That, in turn, was extended to the current expiration date, Jan. 1, 2016.

The number of requests could increase, said County Attorney Everett Moore, in light of the legal dispute over Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s continued enforcement of regulations found to be “unlawful” by a Sussex County Superior Court judge earlier this month. That court battle was to be heard Tuesday in Sussex County Superior Court.

“As some of you know, there has been some turmoil recently because of the court case involving DNREC and soil conservation standards,” said Mr. Moore. “I have received calls from attorneys who deal with land use who are concerned because they have clients that are in the pipeline with projects now that they are ready to turn in … to get the approvals. And they are caught up in this and it is going to cause some delays. So we may see an influx of requests because of certain projects being caught up with the new regulations.”

“I just want to put this on the radar screen of council,” Mr. Moore added. “There may be situations through no fault of their own because of this court battle and the agency approval that they may not be able to meet the deadline.”

County Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank, in response to a question on project dormancy posed by Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, said “probably 30 to 40 percent are totally dormant, with no activity.”

County Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Lewes, expressed concerned about granting extensions, noting the development that is occurring in District 3 that she represents.

“As far as I’m concerned, this would be one of the worst things we could do,” said Ms. Deaver.

County Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, wondered if extension requests could be granted after applications expire. “You can’t ring the bell after it has expired,” said Mr. Cole.

Mr. Moore, in his opinion, said the best practice is to come beforehand. “My gut reaction would be after the fact it has already expired. I would prefer to look at that,” Mr. Moore said.

Because extensions were granted by ordinance, only County Council is authorized to address requests, said Mr. Lawson, adding County Council on a case-by-case basis should decide if a requested extension should be granted and how long.

Those seeking an extension must provide proof, such as agency approvals and a timeframe showing how many “days or months out until they can get final (plans),” said Mr. Lawson. “People that are in this situation are aware that they’re in this situation, and they see the end of the line coming.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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