Ordinance opposition puts Sussex County C-4 zoning issue back to square one

GEORGETOWN — It’s back to square one for Sussex County Council in tweaking attempts to resolve and clarify issues which surfaced following adoption of a new C-4 commercial zoning district in 2018.

Acting on an ordinance proposal brought before the council in December 2018, councilmen Samuel Wilson Jr., Irwin “I.G.” Burton III and Michael Vincent voted ‘no’ to the measure which, as introduced, would allow 40 percent residential development in C-4 zoning.

“We adopted the new C-4 zoning district over a year ago,” said Sussex County Planning and Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell. “At that time, we recognized there were some items that we were trying to clarify in the C-4 district. We brought forth an ordinance that was introduced by county council, the recommendation went through the public hearing process and right now we’re trying to figure out how you would like to address the situation regarding those corrections.”

Because councilmen John Rieley and Doug Hudson joined council in January of this year, they were not included in the vote.

Per current county code, permitted C-4 use for a minimum three-acre single or multiple parcels may have a maximum 20 percent of its developable area consist of duplexes, townhouses or multifamily dwellings.

The ordinance was introduced at 40 percent residential. Sussex County’s planning and zoning commission recommended approval with an increase in residential development area from 20 percent to 65 percent.

Mr. Burton believes the proposal strays from the original intent.

“Way back when, when we changed the commercial code in Sussex County, we divided it up, so it was a lot more predictable in nature. The C-4 was one of those commercial zonings. And my impression of the commercial zoning, the C-4 commercial zoning, was is if somebody wanted to have a strip mall and then apartments above it, that made sense to me. That is good use of space,” said Mr. Burton. “When the tweak came … planning and zoning changed the percentage from 40 percent (county code was 20 percent residential and it was introduced at 40 percent) to 65 percent residential it really became a high-density residential subdivision with a commercial component. It just to me lost the original commercial intent.”

“To me, I think if we are looking to have a high-density residential zoning, we should do that. We shouldn’t do it through a commercial zoning. We should have a commercial zoning and we should have a residential zoning. But this is a mixture of the two. And it’s skewed quite heavily on the residential side,” said Mr. Burton. “We have had no applications this C-4 at the 20 percent or the 40 percent. So something tells me there is something wrong there. I just don’t know that the swing needs to go from 20 to 65 without a look. My concern is that we are moving from a commercial application to a residential application inside of our commercial code.”

The ordinance included development on a minimum three acres in C-4 zoning. Mr. Burton noted that 12 units per acre are allowed in commercial zoning. “So, you switch from 20 to 65 and allow of that 65 percent to be 12 units to the acre, you’re creating a high-density residential,” Mr. Burton said.

Ms. Cornwell said there was some confusion within the code, and the intent of the proposed ordinance was to address that there could be multiple parcels equaling the minimum acreage size, and not just one parcel that had to be three acres in size. “You could have multiple parcels that would equal three acres and be zoned C-4,” said Ms. Cornwell.

The ordinance proposal was defeated 3-0.

“I’m not so sure I am not OK with the 40 (percent residential),” said Mr. Vincent. “But … Mr. Burton seems to think there is other options out there so I’ll vote ‘no.’ We will start this same process over again, I guess.”

“We can do that,” said Ms. Cornwell.

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