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County  Last Updated: Feb 5th, 2009 - 07:27:10

Council Votes on Townhomes, Cluster Housing
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Sussex County Council denied a conditional use request for three townhouse units on Lake Comegys, near Rehoboth Beach, during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2004.

The application by James Gibson had raised concerns by neighboring property owners who feared the units, at a total of 9,600 square feet, were too large for the one-third-acre lot, would be situated too close to Lake Comegys, and along with nine parking spaces would interfere with drainage on surrounding properties.

The council denied the conditional use application 4-1, with council president Dale Dukes the only dissenting vote. Dukes said there are already 28 townhouses in the vicinity, along with nine single family homes, and added that speculations about damage to Lake Comegys was just that.

Council member Lynn Rogers, however, listed several reasons for his "no" vote, including the fact that the proposal exceeds the density allowed in medium residential zoning and that the proposed use is "semi-public" in nature, whereas conditional uses are general public in nature,

Council member Finley Jones cited density and the proposed height of the building for his vote to deny.

Council member Vance Phillips called the application "a difficult one" for the council to consider but said "in the end, it does reach a level that forces me to say it is out of character" for the neighborhood. Phillips also cited heavy community opposition to the plan.

Council member George Cole said the project would set a precedent for other similar properties, where single-family home might be replaced with multi-family units. " I think that would be a big injustice," Cole said.

The home on the property was razed by the First State Community Action agency, to which the Gibsons had donated it. Initially, the home was to be moved, however when that turned out not to be economically feasible, the agency took whatever it could use and paid to have the home torn down.

The county Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended the conditional use application be approved.

In the same meeting, the council voted 4-1 to approve a measure that will allow cluster-type housing developments in areas zoned agricultural-residential.

Cole voiced his objections, saying the measure "sounds good on paper," but that he believes cluster housing should only be allowed in development districts -- areas where infrastructure is in place and where development is being encouraged. He said the result of allowing cluster development in agricultural areas would be "sprawl" and spot zoning. Cole said he feels there is "no hope for the agricultural community and the rural lifestyle that we’ve seen here in Sussex County."

But Rogers said the housing market in the county "is going to drive whether farmland gets used or it doesn’t get used," and disagreed with Cole that the new ordinance would increase density.

Dukes agreed, saying the ordinance doesn’t give developers any more tools than they already had.

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