Another cash-grab for the county

In the latest of obvious money-motivated decisions, Sussex County Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve a bonus-density-for-cash program — a cluster-oriented program that allows for up to four units an acre on AR-1 lands, provided the developer pays a fee between $15,000 and $20,000.

The money generated from this program is supposed to be used as a funding mechanism for open-space preservation. But here’s the catch — as time has progressed throughout this process, other ideas have surfaced for the use of this money. Council Member Dale Dukes suggested the money be put into an escrow account, where the money could be used (with supermajority approval) for “open space, land preservation, public safety and infrastructure.”

Ah, so this clustering plan is not intended to promote open space in other areas as it has been billed — it is strictly about money.

“I think this is another smokescreen, to get more money into the county, and I concur with a lot of people out there — I think that small government is good, and we shouldn’t be doing these kinds of money grabs,” said Council Member George Cole, the lone dissenting vote on council.

The problem is not only clustering all the development into one area so another is saved, it is also based on the very premise of accepting cash to break the rules.

Are council members actually ever going to vote against a developer who has cold cash to up the ante? What about the developer proposing the same thing, but without disposable cash at the ready? And, why aren’t some of the developers (Freeman comes to mind) that already build open space into their projects being rewarded for doing what the council purportedly desires?

If the goal here is to simply generate funds for the county’s coffers, there must be a way rather than compromising the land and environment around us.

To throw more flies into the ointment, consider that this project is going to take place in the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area.

“Anything goes in our environmentally sensitive district,” said Cole.