County continues work to update zoning code

Date Published: 
Feb. 9, 2018

As it works to update the county’s zoning code, the Sussex County Council this week reviewed some of the areas recommended for updates, with plans to hold public hearings on the amendments as they are introduced.

“This is an initiative that dates back to several conversations with councilman and several conversations here in our council meetings with the public relating to issues, inconsistences or problems that we’re facing with County code, mostly in the Planning & Zoning Department,” explained County Administrator Todd Lawson.

Lawson said the list presented on Tuesday was just “part” of what was being looked at by staff, with more amendments to come before the council at a future date.

“We wanted to start off with a small list we felt we could get through quickly,” he said, noting that the proposed amendments on that list were “not controversial.”

Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson said some of the changes are to allow for administrative variances in limited situations, to “streamline the process.”

“What we have run into is, going back decades, … there have been errors Sussex County made — whether it’s been incorrect zoning district or telling somebody it’s one setback when it’s another…

“They’re innocent errors. The problem is, when it comes in on a survey,” he said, is that County Planning & Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell “can’t approve it because it’s wrong to what our code says. The next issue is the people have to go through the Board of Adjustment,” he said, noting that could be a two- to three-month process.

Robertson said that, while such issues are not happening frequently, they have happened often enough to warrant a code change.

“If it’s a County error, the County should be able to fix it by granting an administrative variance,” he said.

The County also introduced ordinances to clarify the maximum building length and method of measurement; the requirement of interconnectivity for commercial uses; and allowing temporary handicapped access ramps to extend into setbacks.

Councilman George Cole asked who keeps track of the temporary ramps, saying he believes many are built then never removed.

“There is nothing in code that I’m aware of that requires the removal or follow-up,” said Cornwell. “They do not come through the planning office.”

Cole asked the council what they think “temporary” means and whether there should be some type of follow-up.

“Is there any expectation that County government should be following up on something that’s temporary?”

“I would remind council that we are talking about handicapped ramps for when an emergency need arises,” said Lawson. “I’m not sure we would want to be in the business of looking at the need of a handicapped ramp… They put it there for a reason. I don’t know how often we’d want to go back and check.”

Cole said that, right now, the County does nothing, and he isn’t sure it’s the “most appropriate” way to address a temporary structure.

“I would say no,” said Councilman Rob Arlett. “If someone has a real need… I’m not sure what would make it temporary… Maybe the word is what’s confusing.”

While the proposed ordinances have already been introduced, they will still go through a public hearing prior to being voted on by the council.

The Sussex County Council will not meet on Feb. 13. The council will resume its weekly meetings on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 10 a.m.