Our county, Sussex, is at a crossroads. Like any crossroad, a choice needs to be made and the one that faces us right now is will we provide reasonable protection to our environment, the very thing that draws people here, or will we fail to and in the end destroy a part a critical part of why we live here?
Council member I.G. Burton has brought this into sharp focus with a proposal to change the way wetlands are treated when a parcel of land is developed. Today, if a developer has 100 acres he wishes to develop, 30 of which are wetlands, using the existing rules he would be permitted to build 200 homes, 2 for every acre. If Mr. Burton’s proposal becomes law, only the 70 acres of dry land would count in the calculation so they would only be permitted to build 140 homes on the tract.
Higher density takes a toll on the wetlands that adjoin it, a neighborhood that has 200 homes on 70 acres will generate for more run off than one that has 140 homes. What attracts many people here is the lower density. If our densities become the same as one finds in suburban neighborhoods near major cities a unique part of the character of our county will be lost.
Opponents of this legislation have claimed that if passed that it will greatly devalue the land and provide an incentive to those that currently own such land to destroy the wetlands. That brings me to my second point. We must have reasonable enforcement of our zoning and wetland protection ordnances. People will only do this if they have no fear of being sanctioned for doing so. As to lowering the value of land nothing negatively impacts it more than over building.
Developers routinely ignore the requirement for forest buffers along our tidal wetlands. If anything encourages people to destroy wetland for personal gain it is seeing developers do so with no consequences. At Solitudes on White’s Creek the forest buffer for a significant piece of the creek shore has been virtually removed and a swimming pool is being built less than 20 feet from the high water mark. This should not be tolerated but at a recent meeting held by the Center for Inland Bays, owners, people standing for the council, a council member all heard and mostly agreed our enforcement is lax. Where the few trees remain was once a dense forest, which ran along the shores of White’s Creek. The loss of that forest will put all of us that use or hope to use and enjoy the creek at risk. It will increase the silting in the creek and in time of flooding will not be there to help slow the flow of run off.
We must adopt rational rules to manage the boundaries between developed land and that which we need to protect. I say need because whether you are a current resident or a potential future resident, we want bays and wetlands that are productive and which also safeguard us when severe weather threatens flooding. Every acre of wetland we lose and every foot of hard surface that can not absorb rain puts those of us here and those who seek to come at risk. If we do not protect the wetlands and bays and do not take steps like reasonable caps on development and enforcement of our current and future rules it will be what destroys the value of land and homes here, not a better ordinance that controls density.
I urge the council to adopt I.G. Burton’s proposal and to also explore his other suggestions on managing our impact on our environment.