Lowering Ag Densities
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GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council heard more concerns about threats to farmland during its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 13, 2001.
Mary Heinricht, Mid-Atlantic director for the American Farmland Trust, told council her organization would like to conduct three studies at no cost to the county to determine threats to and opportunities for the county's agricultural community.
Heinricht said she is concerned that Sussex County could end up like her native Virginia Beach, which has grown from a population of 86,000 in 1963 to more than 450,000 now.
She said that due to the heavy development there, the Virginia Beach area, once one of the east coast's most valuable farming regions, now has only 32,000 acres of farmland left.
She asked council to consider lower densities for its Agricultural-Residential districts to help preserve those districts for agriculture rather than encourage development.
Heinricht's request for lowering densities was met with some skepticism by Council President Dale Dukes and Councilman George Cole.
Both pointed out that the agricultural community has fought the hardest against lowering the current AR-1 zoning density of two units per acre.
"We haven't heard from the agricultural community where they want to protect the farmland," said Cole, whose councilmanic district is under the most development pressure in the county. "They (farmers) want to be able to sell it (to developers)."
Heinricht said local farmers needed to be educated on the benefits of lowering densities.
"Typically, the American farm family has their whole retirement tied up in their farmland," said Heinricht. "The typical family has most of their income, or at least half of their income, coming off the farm. They see that (value of their farmland) as a safety net."
She said local farmers should be educated on the value of government development rights programs such as the state of Delaware's development rights purchasing program.
She also cited policies such as transferring development rights to help farmers get some of the equity of their land while preserving it for agriculture.
She also said that she has worked on studies that show that farmland becomes more valuable over the long term if it is maintained for farming as opposed to developing.
"It's a perceived thing," she said. "At first you lose the potential to sell lots off, but in the long run, where you're protecting large sectors where someone can come in and invest in agriculture and know that they're there for the long haul, it actually makes the land more valuable."
Cole and Dukes remained unconvinced that they could move farmers in the direction of lowering their agricultural districts' densities.
"We had a farmer in here a couple of weeks ago who said he was offered $30,000 an acre for some of his farmland and he didn't take it because he wanted to remain in farming," said Dukes.
"But if a farmer came along and decided he wanted to quit farming, and a farmer is going to pay him $2,500 an acre, which would be high here in Sussex County, or he could sell it for $30,000 an acre (to a developer), what do you think he's going to do? You talk about separating ag from ag-residential but you're going to find a lot of opposition from the farming community."
Heinricht said her organization would like to conduct Cost of Community Services, Build-Out Analysis, and Agricultural Sector Analysis studies in the county.
The cost of community services study would determine the cost to the county from various types of land uses, the build-out analysis would determine how many potential homes could be built under existing zonings in the county, and the agricultural analysis would determine strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for local farmers.
Mobile Home Removal
Council agreed to match an $8,000 grant from the First State Manufactured Homes Association to demolish and remove abandoned mobile home eyesores in the county.
So far, the county has identified and contacted the owners of 20 such properties, according to Ray Moore.
Andy Strine, the association's executive director, presented the $8,000 check to council.
Moore said the county has sent letters to owners of abandoned mobile homes advising them they have 24 hours to contact the county or face a summons.
Moore said approximately 35 to 40 percent of the first group of owners have responded to the county's letters.
County Administrator Robert L. Stickels said the program hasn't been designed to generate violations or funding but to generate compliance in removing the eyesores from the owners.
Stickels added that a property owner's ability to pay for removal of abandoned mobile homes would be based on the same criteria the county uses in determining recipients for Community Development Block Grants.
He added that fines from the Constable's office would be used toward the county's match of $8,000.
Councilman Vance Phillips said he liked the idea.
"I think it's appropriate," he said. "It's a great way for corporations and government to partner to improve the quality of life here in Sussex County."
Moore said the county intended to keep 20 investigations into abandoned mobile homes going at all times.Group Hospital Insurance
Council unanimously approved a change in the county's group hospital insurance plan for its nearly 500 employees for the period from May 1, 2001, to May 1, 2002.
In addition to retaining Integra as its group hospital administrator and the Peoples Benefit Company as its group hospital reinsurer, council also approved an increase in the annual deductible from $35,000 to $50,000 on the recommendation of Finance Director David Baker and Integra.
Benefits will remain the same.
Council President Dale Dukes questioned why the council should raise the deductible when the county didn't reach its aggregate limit, and Chuck Landon of Integra said he recommended raising the deductible on the advice of reinsurers who didn't want to bid on a $35,000 deductible plan for an employer with nearly 500 employees plus dependents.
Landon called the $50,000 deductible "legitimate" for a group of the size of the county.Heating Business Okayed
Council approved the conditional use application of Gregory P. and Christopher P. Allen for a heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical business on 4 acres at the northwest corner of Road 371 and Route 17 west of Clarksville.
The 4-1 vote, with councilman George Cole voting no, allows the Allens to build an office, a 150-foot long warehouse, and storage on the site.
Among five stipulations are that the Allens can only operate from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, display one lighted sign no more than 32 square feet in size, and must store all outside storage within a fenced area.
The business will utilize a former radio station building on the property for its office space.
Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank said one local resident had opposed the project but withdrew her objection later.
Councilman Cole preferred a stipulation from the county's Planning & Zoning Commission that the entire operation be built on the 2.05-acre Parcel B because he felt that would reduce the size of the warehouse, which he believes is inappropriate for a largely residential area.
Cole also cited the council's denial of a similar application by Nelson Quillen for a warehouse across the road from the Allens' site as precedent for denying the Allens' warehouse.
The other councilmen disagreed, however, and voted 4-1 to strip the stipulation requiring all improvements to be on Parcel B, and then voted 4-1 to approve the project with the five remaining stipulations.Rehoboth Golf Properties
Council continued a discussion on a proposed zoning change from AR-1 to MR-RPC that would allow Rehoboth Golf Properties LLC to build 125 single-family units on nearly 53 acres on the northwest corner of Road 273 in Lewes-Rehoboth Hundred 2/10 of a mile south of King Bridge Road.
Originally designed to be 148 homes with a mix of single- and multi-family units, the county's planning and zoning commission recommended approving the project with single-family units not to exceed 125 in number by a 4-0 vote on March 1.
Discussion also continued on Councilman George Cole's request for information and guidance on the project from the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission.
Planning and Zoning Director Lawrence Lank said he received a letter from William Rawley Jr. of the commission that recommended requiring the developer to use a certified nutrient management consultant be contacted to assess the project.
Lank said a letter had also been received from local residents Alvin and Dorothy Goldfarb opposing the project due to concerns about traffic, density, infrastructure and fish kills.
Council President Dale Dukes said he received a letter that morning from Jon Sergovic, attorney for the developer, stating that the project's landscaper would be certified in nutrient management.
County Administrator Robert L. Stickels asked the council to defer a final decision on the project until April 3, 2001, to give him and Lank time to develop the stipulations for approval.DelDOT SR54 Agreement
Council unanimously approved a change request to the Route 54 Agreement with the Delaware Department of Transportation regarding the realignment of county sewer lines in connection with the state's improvements on the road.
DelDOT is raising the road three feet and realign and in the process must realign the sewer lines there for the Fenwick Island Sanitary Sewer District.
Council approved two motions related to the work, the first to allow the modification of the sewer lines to accomodate the road work and the second to pay Whitman, Requardt & Associates $32,000 to design the modification of the Fenwick Island sewer lines.
The $32,000 will be reimbursed by DelDOT.In Other Business ...
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