Sussex County annual report on Land Use Plan

County provides annual report on land-use plan

New state law allows for 10-year update; not every five years

By Ron MacArthur | Jul 17, 2012, Cape Gazette
Photo by: Ron MacArthur Sussex officials will have another five years before updating the hundreds of pages contained in the 2008 comprehensive land-use plan required by the state.

Georgetown — It's 2012 and county and municipal leaders should be pouring over data, hiring consultants and sweating over updating their 5-year comprehensive plans, but that is not the case.

Thanks to new state law, officials are off the hook and are now required to provide updated plans every 10 years instead of every five years. An annual report on plan status is required.

Assistant Sussex County attorney Vince Robertson, who compiled the county's report, said the new law allows time for officials to see how their plan works before they have to start the process all over again.

“The report is not a wish list but a report on what has happened from then to now on the way things have gone the last four years,” Robertson said.

The single overpowering factor impacting Sussex County's plan has been a downturn in the economy. “While Sussex County has continued to carefully monitor trends in land-use development and activity in accordance with the plan, reduced levels of development have not provided a great deal of data to enable the county to effectively study the effects of the plan or the ordinances that been adopted to implement it,” Robertson wrote in the report.

The report has been filed with the Governor's Advisory Council on Planning. Robertson said the report must address status of the various issues in the current plan and identify if they have been implemented or whether any changes or issues have arisen in regard to items included in the plan.

Sussex County's 2008 plan includes a list of 23 proposed ordinances and 10 required elements, which include future land use, housing, economic development, historic preservation and community design.

Roberston said Sussex officials have considered all 23 proposed ordinances with some being adopted or adopted as part of other ordinances, while some have been rejected. Many of the ordinances were discussed during a 2010 joint workshop attended by county council members and planning and zoning commissioners.

Among the ordinances adopted as outlined in the plan are the following:

Two ordinances – 1842 and 1920 – establish bonus density regulations in cluster subdivisions and multifamily developments.

Improved residential design has been addressed in several ordinances – including 1984 and 2022. A clearer definition of open space was defined in ordinance 2022 specifically outlining what can and cannot be included as open space.

Regulations revamping the county's forested buffer ordinance were enacted through ordinance 1984, which includes a mandatory 20-foot buffer around the perimeter of subdivisions.

The source-water protection ordinance helps ensure that development activities are conducted to minimize impact on excellent groundwater recharge areas and wellhead protection areas.

The moderately priced housing unit ordinance offers developers incentives for providing moderately priced housing within a development containing market-value units. Because of economic conditions, no units have been constructed under this plan since its adoption in December 2008.

Superior design regulations in cluster subdivisions were put into place under ordinance 2024. The ordinance establishes a specific set of design criteria regarding site plan, preservation of wetlands and woodlands, open-space standards and multi-modal paths and walkways.

The plan included provisions for more protection for the environmentally sensitive zoning district, which includes most of the Cape Region. Council adopted several ordinances that provide additional protection including updated forested buffer regulations and emphasis on additional connection to the county's central sewer system.

Sussex officials considered but did not act on creating an agricultural zoning district, formation of a transfer of development rights program and regulations for demolition of historic structures.