Timetable, public meetings mapped out for comp plan stretch run

GEORGETOWN – The clock is ticking on the due date for Sussex County’s comprehensive land-use plan update.

County leaders have mapped out a timeline for the state-mandated land-use plan due by June of 2018.

Work will begin in earnest with two Wednesday public meetings before county council on Dec. 6 and Dec. 13. Meetings will start at 9 a.m. Additional meetings can be scheduled.

Draft finalization by council is slated from January to April 2018. That draft will be submitted to the state PLUS (Preliminary Land Use Service) in April for comment and review and then sent to the Cabinet Committee in May. That will be followed by a public hearing before county council.

“By code we have to have this done by June of next year,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson during a Nov. 7 update to county council. “That is a pretty hard deadline. Of course, if we are at a point where we are going through cycles of review and comments with the state I would imagine they would allow us to work past that June deadline. We’re hopeful we won’t have to do that. We believe we can get the work done … in that timeline.”

County councilman George Cole

“It might be a little aggressive,” said councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View. “As I look through what planning and zoning has put on our table there is just a number of issues that I think they have left out. I think they have interpreted things differently than the way we see things as this table. I am little afraid that April, if we all of a sudden realize there is quite a few areas that need to be changed … I don’t want to be put under the gun. This is very important. I think it really needs to have the time to really look at it.”

“I do believe that as we start working our way through it if we start to get bogged down and we need more time, or we need more meetings, quite frankly this council will be the ones to make that decision,” said Mr. Lawson. “If our pace starts to slow down and we are not getting through some milestones at a clip that we would hope that we would, we’ll have to adjust.”

The comprehensive plan serves as the standard for development and how land use is governed in a community over a long-term period.

Plans are utilized by local and county governments to establish land-use policies and identify growth areas, while also casting consideration to various other community concerns, such as agriculture preservation, affordable housing availability, open space protection, historic preservation, economic development and transportation mobility.

State law mandates that all counties and municipalities in Delaware review and update their plans for state certification every 10 years.

The county’s game-plan is to consider various components, or chapters in two groups.

Straight forward or less complex chapters include historic preservation, housing, community design, intergovernmental coordination, utilities and economic development.

More complex chapters are recreation/open space, conservation, mobility and future land use.

Mr. Lawson said the recommendation from staff and the county planning and zoning commission is “we should start easy and go to hard. That’s what we are going to do.”

Public comment will be received at the meetings.

County leaders are hopeful public input and comment will be on the same page with specific topics identified in the public meeting agenda notice.

“We can’t really tell the public what to speak on when they come up, but we could encourage the public to speak on what is on the agenda that day,” said Mr. Lawson. “That way it’s fresh on your mind. You’re aware of it.”

“Obviously, we can’t prohibit anybody from speaking at the public comment,” said Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson, who works in concert with the county’s planning and zoning commission. “If we’re doing a workshop limited to one or two elements, you are not going to get groups that run the spectrum of the comp plan. You are going to get the groups that are really focused on that element. I think it will sort itself out.”

County councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton

The county planning and zoning commission has held many workshops on the comprehensive plan. Mr. Lawson added that the county’s consultant on retainer, McCormick Taylor, will “help us through to the end.”

Council members Irwin “I.G.” Burton, R-Lewes, and Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, inquired about ordinances that might coincide with the comp plan update.

“Everybody works on deadlines. And deadlines hold people accountable,” said Mr. Burton. “The comp plan is a 10-year document. I am convinced that time is not in our favor on some of this stuff. We have got to get the comp plan written and ordinances. We’ve got to get it on the table to figure where we are going, and the sooner the better.”

County councilman Rob Arlett

“It has been mentioned in years past that previous comp plans didn’t hold a whole lot of teeth because there were no ordinances necessarily to back them up,” said Mr. Arlett. “So, as we move forward in a consensus, is that something that we will bring up at that time; have staff go back and look if there is something existing or come up with something?  How are we going to address ordinances pieced in this equation?”

“It came up along the way particularly in the public hearing process with the commission,” said Mr. Robertson. “Once we get through the plan, then come back with an implementation plan. I think we’ll get bogged down trying to draft ordinances at the same time we’re drafting the plan.”

Mr. Lawson said the thing to keep on the forefront of the decision making “is what goes into the comp plan and what stays into the draft as it is presented today, is the council really willing to see that through? So, whatever the words are on paper, is that something you’re going to make sure – whether it’s an ordinance or what – you are willing to commit to? In times past, which you are also referencing, it was held against us that things got in the comp plan and we never really did them or didn’t do them to the level that perhaps those words indicated.”

For more information on the comprehensive plan, visit www.sussexplan.com.

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

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