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Large developments on septic systems to be blocked in New Castle County until August 2021

Delaware Public Media

A temporary version of the controversial plan to limit development using septic systems in New Castle County has passed. 


New Castle County Council unanimously approved a versionof the Administration’s much-debated plan to block subdivisions of more than five parcels in areas of the Suburban zoning district not served by sewer Tuesday. It expires next August. 

The ordinance effectively extends a moratoriumon major septic developments put in place last year. County land use officials have said the new ordinance aims to protect water quality and curtail sprawl in the fast-growing areas below the C&D Canal. 

But New Castle County Farm Bureau president Stewart Ramsey opposedthe plan, saying it would reduce the value of many farmers’ land.

“Like it or not, the value of your farm in Delaware, and particularly in New Castle County, is heavily influenced by its development potential,” he said. “Whether you want to farm it and grow corn or soybeans, chickens, make milk, whatever— the inherent value of that land is heavily influenced by what the developer could do with it if they were to buy it and develop it. And we didn’t want that to be basically stripped off of the land or dramatically reduced.”

The ordinance affects 182 parcels and prevents roughly 4,800 potential units from being built out on septic systems, according to New Castle County Land Use officials.

Some County Council members pushed for a sunset clause on the ordinance so that the County would have time to finish the Southern New Castle County Master Planbefore settling on a permanent solution. A draftof the Master Plan was released last fall. It will in part determine where sewer service is planned. 

“That’s going to have a big role in the fate, if you will, of the land use,” said Richard Hall, general manager of Land Use at the County. “Is it sewer to be built and that type of development pattern? Is it going to be targeted for preservation, where we would not like to see major subdivisions on septic and also like to target it for land preservation programs? We’ll have more clarity instead of this very nebulous, kind of between-here-and-there planning.” 

Ramsey hopes a report expected this fall from the County’s Farmland Preservation Subcommitteehe sits on will also be taken into account. He says he is optimistic the new rule’s limited timeframe will allow the County to develop a more “comprehensive” solution, with elements such as an easement-based farmland preservation program. 

“Farmers that are not going to get sewer and are potentially in an area where the county would not like to see them developed, let's buy the development rights,” he said. “Let’s keep them whole, and allow them to keep farming at the same time.”

Hall argues it is important the County prevents significant development of septic in areas that may eventually be served by sewer. “I would argue it’s now or never, because you’re going to lose the areas where this kind of growth can go,” he said. “We’ve got to get smarter about how we grow, so that’s something we’re trying to do.”

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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