County approves new density ordinance

The Sussex County Council voted unanimously at its Dec. 4 meeting to approve an ordinance that would change the method of calculation for permitted density in its agricultural and residential districts.

“I introduced this ordinance and, like most ordinances, they’re made up of change,” said Councilman I.G. Burton. “Change is not always welcome, but sometimes change is needed and change takes courage. I remind council that we represent the entire county, as well as our individual districts.

“This ordinance seeks to change how Sussex County calculates density,” he continued. “The way we currently calculate density is on the total acres. This will not change if the site contains no state tidal wetlands. If this ordinance is passed, the density calculation on lands with state tidal wetlands will be determined after subtracting out the state tidal wetlands.”

The proposed ordinance would alter how the County calculates density within subdivisions — changing it from allowing the total acreage of a parcel (including wetlands) to be considered when calculating allowed density, to excluding state wetlands and instead using only buildable space for the calculation.

Burton said the existing ordinance on density calculation had been on the County books since the 1980s and was in need of an update.

“This ordinance looks at the county holistically. We have to ask ourselves if we are mining out the beauty and heritage of the county we all know and love. Addressing the density of development in our most critically and environmentally sensitive areas is a small step to preserving and protecting our environment,” he said.

“Sussex County has changed since then and will continue to do so. The environment has changed and will also continue to do so.”

The council voted 5-0 to approve the ordinance.

Outgoing Councilman Rob Arlett said he hoped that, in future discussions, the council would look to have working-group workshops to flush out details of proposed ordinances.

“I think it behooves this council of the future to respect the public and respect the process,” he said. “It’s important to get it right in regard to process and not doing things for the sake of doing things… If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”

Outgoing Councilman George Cole countered Arlett’s statement, noting that “some things are easier than others.”

“For a council like ours not to be able to make an adjustment from a current buffer which is 20 feet to a recommendation that’s 40 feet… for us to form a committee, to go through the time that’s involved bringing in the people sitting around and talk about this issue, I think is a waste of time… Those are my 2 cents.”

Also at the Dec. 4 meeting, the council approved the 2018 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which is required by law to be updated every 10 years.

Some of the key strategies in the adopted plan include:

• Ways to preserve, promote and strengthen agriculture’s presence in the county, including through a possible agri-business district that would add certain permitted ag-related support uses to low-density areas;

• Several initiatives to review and potentially overhaul the County’s land-use code — specifically measures that would focus on wetlands protection, forestry preservation and water quality;

• Forming a County-level transportation committee, which would work with State officials to better monitor, coordinate and prioritize road projects;

• The establishment of economic development zones to focus job-creation and private investment in and around targeted communities;

• Stimulating the construction of workforce/affordable housing through a review of existing impediments to such housing and incentives for it, including the possibility of a community development fund.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the plan, with Councilman Sam Wilson opposed. He did not explain his vote.

“We thank everyone involved for their hard work,” said Council President Michael H. Vincent.

During the Tuesday meeting, the council also heard a presentation on an “economic gardening” program from William Pfaff, the County’s economic-development director.

Pfaff explained that “economic gardening” is an economic development program “that helps second-stage companies by delivering customized information to address strategic growth issues,” focusing on local companies already operating in the area.

Pfaff said second-stage companies typically have 10 to 99 employees, and $1 million to $50 million in annual revenue.

Economic gardening — a term coined by Chris Gibbons for his version of the concept, implemented originally in Littleton, Colo. — is now supported by the Edward Lowe Foundation, an entrepreneurship foundation designed to help states and regional organizations get entrepreneurial networks up and running quickly. Currently, the foundation offers the program in more than 25 states and/or regions.

Pfaff said if the County were to decide to pursue economic gardening, they would set up an agreement with the foundation to provide services of up to $2,500 to $5,000 per second-stage company, for up to $25,000 total.

The County would then put out a request-for-proposals to solicit qualified companies to participate in the program. The applications would then be evaluated, and awards would be given based upon each company’s ability to grow and bring new money into the community.

Vincent said he had done some research and found that Edward Lowe was the same individual who developed kitty litter.

Vincent said that, while attending the National Association of Counties conference earlier this year, he learned that, “Nationwide, 92 percent of your growth will be from companies that are already there… The base of your economic growth will be people who are already here who want to learn how to grow and expand their business.”

Burton asked how many people would take advantage of the program. Pfaff said his department has already identified three businesses at the second stage that would qualify for consideration. He added that the County will promote the program through its channel partners and through banks.

The council voted 4-1 to have the County enter into an agreement with the Edward Lowe Foundation for the economic gardening program, not to exceed $25,000, with Wilson again opposed.


By Maria Counts

Staff Reporter