Densities Still Undecided
Major Stumbling Block
SC Online Content Editor
A Sussex County Council workshop on the county's proposed land use plan update turned into a series of debates over key points in the plan, such as buffer zones and limiting development around the Inland Bays.
As has been the case throughout the update proceedings for the past year, the major stumbling blocks at the workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2002, continued to revolve around the proposed Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area in the coastal zone.
The workshop opened with a discussion on buffer zones -- undeveloped areas meant to help lessen the impact of development on natural resources such as waterways -- and continued with more discussion of densities in the ESDA.
The Association of Coastal Towns, a group of coastal mayors, has asked the council to increase the buffers around tidal wetlands from 50 feet to 100 feet and to impose a cap on densities in the ESDA of two dwelling units per acre.
Tom Shafer, the county's consultant on the land use plan, said he has found no definitive research on what is best for buffer zones.
Council member George Cole pushed for a better explanation of buffer zones in the proposed plan. "What I want to know is where is the buffer zone and who's going to maintain it," Cole said.
As for buffer zones along non-tidal wetlands, Shafer suggested that the 25 feet suggested by ACT is "not necessarily unreasonable," but said the council may want to consider instead requiring developers to devote a percentage of each affected property to a buffer zone.
For now, the council has agreed only to evaluate ACT's request for 100-foot buffers along tidal wetlands and to evaluate environmental effects of buffers on non-tidal wetlands.
In the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area -- created to give special considerations to areas surrounding the Inland Bays -- ACT has proposed a maximum density of two homes per net acre, with roads, wetlands, commercial uses and half the acreage of golf courses.
But in order to allow developers to preserve open space through clustering of homes, a minimum lot size of 7,500 square feet would be allowed as long as the total density didn't exceed two units per acre. Twenty percent or more of net acreage would be preserved as open space.
Council member Vance Phillips protested that proposal. "I see no reason why we have to take it down to two per acre," Phillips said. Phillips said he doesn't think the "environmentally sensitive" designation should result in decreased density. Shafer said that since many of the new large developments in the coastal area include golf courses, "that takes it down to four per acre."
Still, Phillips said he fears such a move "is going to cause property values to accelerate" to the point where most people can't afford to buy in the coastal area, and that in turn, "is going to shove development pressure to the west," where Phillips said it is more preferable to preserve farmland.
"The idea," Phillips said, "was to protect the environment, not necessarily to limit growth" in the coastal area. His statements drew audible groans from several coastal mayors in attendance at the workshop.
Shafer suggested the council consider keeping the two units per acre maximum, but allowing higher density when a developer can demonstrate it would be beneficial to the surrounding area.
The council also discussed a proposal to increase the minimum lot size in agricultural areas to 3/4 acre in areas with central sewer. After some discussion, council members agreed to leave the requirements at 20,000 square-foot minimum lots.
Another workshop is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22, in council chambers in council chambers. The public is invited to attend, although no public comment will be taken during the meeting.
Public hearings will be scheduled later in the year. Council has been given an extension by the state to Dec. 31, 2002, for updating its plan.
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