Sussex must address height limit
Since when do we increase the allowed height for most buildings in all commercial zones by 43 percent through a simple legal interpretation? No public discussion? No public hearing? No vote by elected officials? This is about as crazy and ridiculous as it gets. But that’s exactly what has happened.
A few years ago, developers of the Vineyards at Nassau Valley looked into a zoning variance from the accepted 42-foot height limit in commercial zones so they could build two mixed commercial and residential buildings to 60 feet. That would accommodate commercial space at the street level and three floors of residential overhead.
While researching the variance procedure, however, an attorney discovered a clause in the county’s zoning which states “ ... public and semi-public or public service buildings, hospitals, institutions or schools, when permitted in a district, may be erected to a height not exceeding 60 feet.” After lengthy discussion behind the scenes, a county attorney said the proposed Vineyards buildings fit the “public or semi-public” definition. Sussex Planning and Zoning then approved permits for the buildings to go up to 60 feet.
Under that broad definition, any commercial structure in Sussex with limited or unlimited public access can now rise to 60 feet. One hotel along Route 1 is under construction and will be 60 feet tall when complete. Another is in the works. Given the value of commercial real estate, it’s safe to assume the greatest majority of commercial structures going forward will be 60 feet as opposed to the 42 feet for so long considered law.
Maybe the legal interpretation is correct and the authors of Sussex zoning intended the height limit in commercial zoning to be 60 feet for almost everything. Most, however, would agree that interpretation is, at the very least, questionable.
Sussex County Council should direct Planning and Zoning to halt any further permits for 60-foot buildings until the “public or semipublic” provision is researched to determine original intent, and until the public has an opportunity to weigh in on the wisdom of allowing 60-foot buildings on any property zoned commercial.