Sussex County, DE — An ordinance just passed by the Sussex County Council will protect the County’s tidal wetlands and tidal tributary streams by subtracting their acreage from a development’s buildable area.
“We have to ask ourselves if we are mining out the beauty and heritage of the County we all know and love,” said bill sponsor, Councilman I.G. Burton III. “Addressing the density of development in our most critically environmentally-sensitive areas is a small step towards preserving and protecting our environment.”
Until now, the County’s calculation for a development’s “gross buildable area” has been calculated using the total acreage of a development site, even when this acreage includes unbuildable and ecologically-important areas like wetlands and streams. This practice has effectively concentrated dense development on areas too near the County’s most sensitive wetlands and waterways.
The new ordinance, passed by the County Council on December 4, will calculate permitted density based on total acreage, unless that acreage includes a state tidal wetland or tidal tributary stream. In that case the total acreage will be determined by subtracting out the acreage of these newly protected areas. The ordinance was amended after the public hearing and council discussions, removing language that would have offered the same protections for perennial non-tidal rivers and streams, and non-tidal wetlands.
Citing the new ordinance as a balance between quality of life and property rights, Councilman Burton explained, “The interesting thing is that the environment protects our property values and we should do whatever we can to protect the environment.”
Areas with high density development and impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and rooftops, are more vulnerable to stormwater runoff (a source of pollutants to local waterways) and flooding from storms and sea level rise. The previous trend of high-density development near these sensitive areas was leaving community members right in the path of this flooding: putting their homes and lives at risk. With less dense development, the protected tidal wetlands can help mitigate flooding events, acting as sponges for rain, storm surge, and floodwaters.
“The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays would like to thank the Sussex County Council and the supporters that advocated for this ordinance, as well as Councilman Burton for his dedication to protecting our County’s environment,” said Chris Bason, Executive Director the the Center. “While we would have liked to see non-wetlands and perennial non-tidal river and streams included in this ordinance, this new protection of tidal wetlands is still an important improvement that has the power to protect water quality, sensitive natural habitats, and even human lives.”
More information is available at https://sussexcountyde.gov/ordinance-relating-calculation-permitted-density.
The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a non-profit organization established in 1994, and is one of 28 National Estuary Programs. With its many partners, the CIB works to preserve, protect and restore Delaware’s Inland Bays–the water that flows into them, and the watershed around them.