Council must enact strong criteria to guide rezoning
Recently, more and more developers who once sought conditional-use permits are now seeking to rezone land before they build.
They say this trend is driven by financial institutions, which prefer the security rezoning offers. A conditional-use permit allows land to be used only for the specific use applied for, and it ends when the use ends. Rezoning is permanent; once land is rezoned, it can be used for anything permitted within that zone.
It’s easy to see why banks prefer rezoning land; if the business fails and the property is foreclosed upon, the bank has a larger pool of potential buyers if the land can be used for any purpose permitted in the new zone.
It’s much harder to see how rezoning helps residents and other investors who own surrounding properties. People purchase land in areas zoned residential and surrounded by areas zoned residential because they don’t want the congestion that comes with commercial, business or industrial uses. Many come to Sussex to retire; they are coming to escape traffic jams and noise associated with business uses.
But a 3-2 vote of Sussex Council can disrupt lives by simply changing the zoning of any tract of land. Neither county planners nor the council base zoning-change decisions on a specific proposed use; by the nature of rezoning, any allowable use is permitted once the parcel is rezoned. Anyone in unincorporated Sussex could wake up to find land next to them has been zoned to allow a hotel next door; after a public hearing, just about anything, from a borrow pit to a shopping center, could be permitted anywhere in Sussex.
Lenders will always work to reduce risks, but why should their reduced risks be at the expense of Sussex County taxpayers? It’s the job of the banks to ensure they are loaning money only to projects that are likely to be successful and thus able to repay the loans. By rezoning land and expanding the pool of possible buyers, council is only encouraging a new real estate bubble in Sussex County.
Council should leave zoning alone until it enacts strong guidelines for making rezoning decisions that provide security not just for banks, but for everyone who lives and pays taxes in Sussex County.