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Permanent septic development restriction passes New Castle County Council amid opposition

Delaware Public Media

A controversial plan to permanently limit development on septic systems in New Castle County passes. 

County Executive Matt Meyer’s administration has been trying to block large developments from being built on septic systems for years. The ban that passed Council Tuesday, after hours of bitter public comment and debate, makes permanent a temporary moratorium that expired this month. 

The measure applies to the County’s Suburban (S) zone, and mainly affects the fast-growing and more rural southern New Castle County. It prevents developments of more than five parcels on septic.  

Proponents of the ordinance say limiting septic developments benefits water quality, and prevents the higher transportation emissions associated with sprawl. 6,300 new households are expected in southern New Castle County by 2050, and County Land Use officials say they can be served by sewer. 

“Once you have an area sprawled out with septic systems across rural or semi-rural lands, it makes it very hard to serve that land as infrastructure arrives,” said Rich Hall, land use manager at the County, during Tuesday’s Land Use Committee meeting. “So we’re trying to stage growth.” 

Some landowners and farm bureau officials object to the new restriction. They say it robs farmers of value in their land, which they can sell to developers for retirement money, or hand down to their kids. 

Melissa Heller was among a group of residents from an area near Middletown planned for sewer service who opposed the measure, saying it would push development near them. 

“They’ll go to our schools,” she said during the public comment period. “Those are the schools that my kids go to. Overcrowding—the infrastructure does not exist.”

Some council members expressed disgust at what they interpreted as a coded resistance to affordable housing. 

Councilman John Cartier, who represents Claymont, voted for the ban.

“I have to look at what’s best for the public over the long term, to the future residents of southern New Castle County, not necessarily to the particular gripes or issues raised by particular property owners,” he said. 

The ordinance allows for owners of unsewered land in the Suburban zone to transfer development rights to parcels of land served by sewer. 

The County administration says it would also like to create an impact fee or other consistent source of revenue to pay for agricultural land and open space preservation.


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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