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Proposed New Castle County septic limits advance toward vote amid mixed support

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
New Castle County Council Land Use Committee discusses the proposed septic ordinance

A controversial plan to limit development on septic systems in New Castle County has advanced toward a full council vote. 


The administration-backed plan to prevent subdivisions with more than five parcels from using septic systems in certain residential zones has met criticism— but it advanced through the planning board and this week, the County Council Landuse committee. 


County Executive Matt Meyer’s Land Use department has pushed for the ordinance, arguing it would protect groundwater and curtail sprawl in the southern part of the county.


“Having entire subdivisions with fifty, a hundred, two hundred units on built on septic is really bad if we are serious about our water quality,” said Meyer. “I think it’s a good step forward for the septic ordinance to have moved through the planning board and now being considered by the full County Council.”


Committee Chair Janet Kilpatrick supports the ordinance, citing water quality concerns.


“I’m not going to be a councilperson that in five years down the road, when some section of this county has contaminated drinking water, that says, oh I didn’t feel like it was the time to put a moratorium on it,” said Kilpatrick.


Support for the ordinance appears mixed. Some council members say they would prefer to extend the current moratorium on large septic developments for another year.  It expires in February. 


Councilman Bill Bell points to outstanding reports from the Land Preservation Task Force and the Southern New Castle County Master Plan, expected next year.


“There’s a lot of different parts of this that need to be further researched and considered,” he said. “Not only input from our public but also from folks that would be affected, especially our farmers”


Some farmers and landowners have said the ordinance would downzone properties, reducing their land value and hitting farmers’ retirements or loan equity.


The current version of the ordinance would allow properties without sewer access in the two affected zones— Suburban and Suburban Reserve—to transfer their development rights to other developments served by sewer. 


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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