Kent Comprehensive Plan heads for final approval

DOVER — After two years in the making the 2018 Kent County Comprehensive Plan will receive its final public hearing tonight and Levy Court commissioners will decide on officially adopting the document.

The first draft of the comprehensive plan was released in February after about 18 months of preparation.

In the following months, several public workshops were hosted by the planning department to collect feedback on the document and fine-tune its recommendations.

County planning director Sarah Keifer notes that a significant portion of feedback was also culled from Online sources as well.

“We had a good amount of engagement at our workshops, but we didn’t really know what to expect with our Online surveys at first,” she said. “We ended up collecting almost six hundred responses on one of the bigger surveys which surprised us. We also made use of things like Facebook and Twitter to get feedback from the public — there are more tools available now than there were during the preparation of our last comp plan 10 years ago.”

The final draft includes detailed plans and projects related to demographics, economic development, housing, community facilities, conservation, historic preservation, land use, transportation, community design, intergovernmental coordination and implementation strategies.

For months the planning department has urged the public to examine the plan Ms. Keifer calls “story of Kent County’s residents.”

“It’s often described as the planning department’s comp plan, but it’s not, it’s the county’s plan,” she said in February. “For it to be useful, it needs to reflect the vision, hopes and interests of the people who live and work here. The more input we get, the more useful the document is.”

The public hearing, starting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Kent County Administrative Complex on 555 Bay Road in Dover, will be the public’s last chance to weigh in on the plan before it’s voted on by commissioners and certified by Gov. John Carney.

The full final draft, along with a catalog of recent changes, can be found at co.kent.de.us/planning-dept/planning/comprehensive-plan.aspx.

Priorities

Analyzing data and feedback, Ms. Keifer said the emergent theme of the comp plan became balancing the county’s rural character with its desire to increase economic development.

“If you look at population projections, the county continues to grow, diversify and age — that brings with it any number of needs and desires from the population,” she said. “2018’s theme seems to be economic development and job growth. There’s a huge focus on enabling and encouraging economic development while at the same time respecting that we are a rural county. It’s a balance.”

While the plan makes adjustments and projections county-wide, several recent changes to the plan, as it concerns the Little Heaven and Frederica, signal that the county is open to economic development in these areas specifically.

“The Kent Economic Partnership suggested to us to expand the employment center around the Little Heaven,” said Ms. Keifer. “We explored the idea and coordinated with the State Planning offices because there can be some concern about expanding too far east. We were able to work out some compromises though. South of Frederica, we also added a town area and expanded the commercial area after speaking with town officials.”

Though a wider berth was given to possible development in this area, it’s limited to the paper the plan is written on unless opportunity comes knocking, points out Ms. Keifer.

“Practically speaking, if it’s shown in the comprehensive plan, those are areas where rezoning will be considered favorably,” she said. “If you have a parcel in that area and want to bring an employer — not service and retail — you would have to apply for a rezoning. If infrastructure is in place to serve it, it’s likely that it’ll be supported by the county. We’re actually working on a specific zoning ordinance for employment centers as well — that will be a whole new zoning classification.”

However, a development spree seems a ways off still — any future rezoning in these areas have been paused until the county develops “master plans” for them.

“The state planning office asked us to hold off from doing any actual rezoning until we write up master plans for each of those areas — that’ll be the very next thing we work on,” said Ms. Keifer. “Master plans are like little comp plans focused on a smaller area. They take into consideration things like infrastructure, potential road connections and sewer. After we draft those, there will be public outreach again and we’ll ultimately have to have them approved by the Levy Court.”

 

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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