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Sussex County to consider incentives for high-density housing development

Milton Pratt
Delaware Public Media

Sussex County’s zoning commission will consider a new strategy for tackling the county’s housing shortage this week: increasing the density of new housing developments.

County Councilman John Rieley introduced a proposal earlier this month to give financial incentives to housing developers to build more units per acre than the county’s zoning code currently allows, with a maximum of 12 units per acre.

The incentives would be reserved for developments within Sussex County's "growth areas," which include town centers and industrial areas with existing water, sewage and electrical infrastructure. Currently, the county's growth areas average only 2.5 housing units per acre, compared to 1.9 units per acre in the county's rural areas.

Rieley says the effort is part of a broader effort by the county to increase access to affordable housing for Sussex County’s growing workforce.

According to Sussex County Housing Group’s Advocacy Chair Katie Millard, about a third of the county’s residents are overburdened by the cost of housing.

She adds increasing the density of developments in the county’s cities and towns could also help reduce traffic and transportation costs.

"If they have higher density in very specific areas," she said, "that means that people can work where they live, especially if it’s in town centers or where jobs are located."

The proposal would also allow council to amend other zoning rules, including building heights and minimum lot sizes, to make denser developments possible.

Rieley adds that developers who receive incentives would be required to set aside roughly a third of their units for lower-income renters, and that the affordable units would need to be of the same quality as the rest of the development.

After a public hearing before the county's zoning commission on April 28, the Sussex County Council will consider the measure in June.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.