Sussex County Council moves forward on wetlands

The public will soon have their chance to give input on wetlands and density calculations, as Sussex County Councilman I.G. Burton on Aug. 14 introduced an ordinance related to adjusting the calculation.

“This ordinance… it’s not easy to write,” said Burton. “The wetlands in this county are everywhere and in many different forms.

“My intention is not to change the value of the farmlands in the county. In fact, this will have a minimum impact on most farmlands being developed. My intention is to relook at how density is calculated using unbuildable, state-determined wetlands. These are areas around rivers and streams that all of us understand deserve special consideration.”

Burton first brought the issue to the council in June, stating that he was concerned that the County allows for the area of unbuildable wetlands to be used in the formula to calculate allowable density on a parcel that is to be developed.

“It does not make sense to me to have a possible density of 2- to 12-units-an-acre, with lots beginning at 7,500 square feet, to have multi-family, single-family, condos, RPCs and other types of zoning, and then allow the density calculation to include lands that cannot be physically built on,” said Burton on Aug. 14. “This just makes no good common sense to me.”

Burton said revising the density calculation was mentioned in the County’s 2008 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, along with the prior iteration of the plan.

“This concern has been on the books for 15-plus years. We were all elected to listen, think, ask questions, and then act. It is certainly time to bring this ordinance forward for public input and a vote by county council.”

“I share some of your concerns,” said Councilman George Cole. “I might be a little more extreme, possibly, in Sam’s mind, on the way I approach it,” he said of fellow Councilman Sam Wilson.

Burton said writing the draft ordinance was difficult, as there are “just wetlands everywhere.”

“Where do you draw the line?” he opined.

Councilman Rob Arlett said that, while he wouldn’t disagree with Burton’s assessment, he questioned what the ultimate goal of the proposed ordinance would be.

“Is it to protect our environment and waterways? ... Where did it stem from? Have we had issues? Or is this something we’re just trying to grapple with?”

“It’s all of the above,” replied Burton.

Arlett asked whether there was quantified data that shows that what the County has been doing “for all these years” has “negatively impacted the environment.”

“No,” said Burton. “I just look out the windshield.”

“There’s all kinds of studies about stormwater runoff, there’s density and zero buffers from runoff… The water quality has gotten clear, but it’s a different type of problem out there,” added Cole.

Arlett said the question was whether the density and number of units on a parcel directly impacts the quality of the environment in the surrounding area.

“I don’t know if they’re related or not,” he said. “I’m just posing the question, because if the goal of the ordinance is to protect the environment — which we all agree we need to do — will this do that? ... I don’t know the answer. I’m just posing the question.”

By Maria Counts
Staff Reporter