Delaware Public Media

Sussex County councilman proposes housing density measurement change to protect wetlands

Oct 23, 2018

A Sussex County Councilman is proposing to change the way housing density is measured in an effort to protect state wetlands.

Sussex currently measures housing density by total number of acres, allowing two housing units per acre.

Councilman Irwin Burton wants to remove areas designated as state wetlands from that equation to limit development near the wetlands.

But Burton says the measure has seen some pushback from the Home Builders Association of Delaware and some area farmers.

“He was a Western Sussex farmer and he really thought I was going to hurt his land value. And that’s a pushback—‘I used to be able to get 200 homes now I can only get 180,’” said Burton.

Center for the Inland Bays Executive Director Chris Bason supports the ordinance. He says it will prevent homes from being built in areas vulnerable to flooding as a result of sea level rise. He also says high-density housing can negatively impact the sensitive wetland environment.

“It comes with impacts to the environment like stormwater runoff, in some cases wastewater impact and just physical encroachment from the people living near the wetlands,” said Bason.

Many areas near wetlands in Sussex County are already developed and not all wetlands are designated as state wetlands.  They would not be affected by the proposed ordinance.

Two public hearings have been held on this matter. The Planning and Zoning Committee is expected to vote this week on its recommendation to County Council before the Council's final vote on the ordinance.