Sussex County Council Sets Non-Public Height Limit at 42 Feet - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Sussex County Council Sets Non-Public Height Limit at 42 Feet

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GEORGETOWN, Del. - For more than six months, the Sussex County Council has been debating how tall is too tall for buildings in the unincorporated sections of the county. Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to set the limit at 42 feet for all non-public buildings. This has long been the policy of the council, but was not always enforced due to loose language in the county rule book. 

For decades the council has considered public places to mean locations such as hospitals, schools, or government buildings. But in the last decade savvy developers took advantage of the loose definitions, constructing 60 foot buildings for quasi-public purposes. 

4th District Councilman George Cole said that the 42 foot limit would help the county with capacity issues. 

"T
o go to 60 feet is to add a little bit of density," he said. "Which you might not see the impact in the next five years or six years. Twenty years down the road, you might have a slew of buildings that are sixty feet high."

Cole said that the council has always had the position that the building height should be at 42 feet. He said it was a surprise to most in county government when developers started reinterpreting the ordinance on height limits.

"I think now we've basically made sure it's clear," he said. "The wording is clear. There's no ambiguity about the whole thing."

A prime example of this type of development can be found at the Vineyards at Nassau Valley. The development, which has public space available, fit the former criteria for a public building, and for that reason was allowed to build to 60 feet. Under the new change made by the council, developers like those that owned the Vineyards would be capped at 42 feet. 

Already constructed, buildings like the Vineyards are "grandfathered" into the new policy. But new developments would have to stop at 42 feet. Mason Lutz, a resident at the Vineyards said that the 60 foot limit is more appropriate than a 42 foot one. He said building higher would allow them to disrupt less land in the county. 

"If you have 42 foot buildings, it means you are going to have more buildings," he said. "Because a 60 foot building would be able to have a capacity of a higher amount of people. A smaller building means lower amount of people, which means you would have to build more smaller buildings to accommodate more people." 

Meanwhile construction worker Ken Oplinger said the limit is a good protection for neighbors.

"You might have had a nice view when you looked out a window before," he said. "Now you have 30 feet of a building above you."
 

A developer can still build above 42 feet if they appeal to the Board of Adjustments. In a case by case basis, that board can issue a variance to the developer to build above the limit. 

The council has been debating this issue since they first became aware of the discrepancy in October. In early April, the County Council, the Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Board of Adjustments held a public workshop, where the change was suggested. 
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