Board may need some adjustment

Sussex County Council is taking a two-week break following a marathon meeting Tuesday, June 29. When council returns it will have a tough issue to tackle that has many people upset – the board of adjustment.

The board with the funny-sounding name is a cross between People’s Court and Justice of the Peace Court where people are at the mercy of five men. The board deals in feet and inches as it decides on variances to county regulations and also determines special-use exceptions within certain zoning districts.

The board operates under the radar – most residents have no clue who members are – and there is no way to contact the members via email or  phone, which is information available on the Sussex County website for county council members.

Most of those who appear before the board have done something stupid or wrong – like building a garage in a setback area. Others purchase property without realizing it has a history. Most of those who appear are violators of county code, and don’t even realize it or have a clue what to do when they get there. In addition, they are paying $400 for the adventure.

The smart ones hire an attorney, which drives up the cost, but gives them a fighting chance.

The board also decides on placement of towers and windmills and variances on signs and billboards.

What has some people upset is that between 1973 and 2009 the board has approved about 7,700 of the 9,000 applications it has heard. Most of those approvals are for variances, and many are in manufactured home parks.

Those numbers equate to about 250 applications per year, or about 20 per month, which doesn’t seem like a very high number.  I don’t know if an approval rate of 85 percent is good or bad.

Council wants to take a serious look at why  variances come up in the first place. Could some changes be made in county code to lessen the number? That’s the question the board and council will debate when they meet, probably for the first time ever, in a workshop in the near future.

While they are at it, there should be some time spent discussing how the four arms of Sussex County government – administration, council, planning and zoning commission and board of adjustment – could communicate with each other a little better.


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