Ordinance proposal targets density calculation in unbuildable state wetlands

GEORGETOWN – Discussion and debate has surfaced with introduction of a proposed ordinance targeting unbuildable state wetlands in density calculation.

On hold for two weeks, Sussex County Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton at council’s Aug. 14 meeting formally introduced an ordinance draft that would remove some designated wetlands acreage in calculating density for development.

“I had this placed on the agenda two weeks ago and then I removed it for further consideration. And the reason is that this ordinance, it’s not easy to write,” said Mr. Burton. “I mean the wetlands is this county are everywhere and in many different forms.”

“My intention is not to change the value of the farmlands in the county. In fact, this will have a minimum impact on most farmlands being developed. My intention is to re-look at how density is calculated using unbuildable, state-determined wetlands,” said Mr. Burton. “These are areas around our rivers and streams that all of us understand deserve special consideration.”

“I don’t see any reason to calculate state wetlands,” said councilman George Cole, adding he shares some of Mr. Burton’s concerns. “I might be a little more extreme possibly … on the way I would approach it.”

Since county zoning was established nearly five decades ago, total acreage – including wetlands which are unbuildable – is calculated in computing density of residential zoned districts. Typically, under county zoning two building units are permitted per acre.

The ordinance proposal includes density calculations for lots in an AR-1 cluster subdivision, lots in ESDDOZ (Environmentally Sensitive Development District Overlay Zone) subdivisions, and lot area calculations for multi-family dwellings in all districts.

“What ultimately is goal of the ordinance?” asked councilman Rob Arlett. “Is the goal actually to protect our environment and waterways? And where did it stem from? Have we had issues? Or is it something that we are just trying to grapple?”

“It’s all of the above,” Mr. Burton said. “That by protecting the state water areas from the density calculation you are then protecting the environment.”

“Do we have proof? Is there is something somewhere saying that based on what this county has been doing for all of these years, that it has negatively impact the environment?” Mr. Arlett said. “Is there something that is out there that is saying the policy of this county for all of those years on what they have done and how they have done things has negatively impacted the environment? Is there something out there that specifies that or states that?”

“No, I just look out the windshield,” Mr. Burton replied.

Mr. Cole, in his 32nd year on county council, said there are studies pertaining to storm-water runoff, density and zero buffers from wetlands, and everything else. “We’d have to have DNREC here to bring up the studies,” said Mr. Cole.

Over the years, Mr. Cole says the county has essentially fully addressed one major issue.

“Probably what this county has done the best of, is with sewer service. We’ve gone along the inland bays and we have taken that type of pollution out of the water table. That has been our major impact,” said Mr. Cole. “But other than that, we have got an environmentally sensitive development district that has encouraged development, increased the density. And in my opinion increased density and more runoff and more of everything in your environmentally sensitive development district is not environmentally sensitive. We should have less.”

County leadership, Mr. Cole said, has over the years encouraged through previous land-use plans “to build, build as much as you want at high density. And right now, our roads can’t handle it. I see nothing in the future that is going to improve our transportation system in probably another two generations. It is just getting worse because we approve this higher density. By doing these other things that we permit, we’ve given additional density all over the county.”

Again, Mr. Arlett posed the question.

“If the goal is to protect the environment is there evidence out there that this would improve that?” said Mr. Arlett. “What you are referring to as density … and the number of units on a particular parcel, does that or has that directly impacted the quality of the environment in the surrounding area? I don’t know if they are related or not. Or maybe they are separate animals and we are barking up the wrong tree in reference to the ordinance. I don’t have the answer to that question.”

“I think if you polled the general public here in Sussex County …” said Mr. Cole.

“I’m not looking for general opinions,” said Mr. Arlett. “We have to make decisions on facts.”

“I think if you polled, the general opinion is that all of this development has had a negative impact on the environment. Would things be better if we had less density, less traffic, less impervious surfaces?” said Mr. Cole. “Less, less, less I think would be better.”

“Again, if that is the case, will this specific ordinance alter that. Or, is there other things that we can do or should do, or agencies, DNREC and alike that are more relevant in that solution?” said Mr. Arlett.

“I say you research it and bring us some results,” said Mr. Burton.

“If we move forward with the public hearing that is what we would want. That is the purpose of the public hearing,” Mr. Arlett replied.

With that, Mr. Burton formally introduced the ordinance.

“Now, we’ll see where we go,” said county council president Michael Vincent.

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.