Important County Ordinances

December 2024

On May 17th 2022, Sussex County Council passed a revised buffer ordinance (recommended by Planning & Zoning on January 11, 2022) intended to better protect wetlands and waterways by enhancing buffers between them and new development.

Since 1988, the County has required a 50-foot-wide buffers on tidal wetlands and waters and on large non-tidal streams in new subdivisions, just half the distance that is required in Kent and New Castle counties and only one-sixth of what is often required in New Jersey (see “Wetlands and Waterways Buffer Policy Comparison” in the resources list below). After years of accumulated nutrient pollution and habitat loss driven by changes to the landscape—notably development and the associated loss of forestland—the conditions of the Inland Bays have declined. Climate change is an additional stressor to the health of the water resources integral to the County’s coastal economy. Natural buffers, particularly forests, are very effective at controlling pollution and protecting essential habitat for fish and wildlife.

This newly adopted ordinance follows a process called for under the County’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan which included wetlands and waterways. It will take effect 6 months from when it was adopted, and will apply only to new residential projects proposed and built within the County’s jurisdiction of unincorporated Sussex County.

A nice example of a forested buffer implemented along Love Creek.

Examples of Forested Buffer Requirements

County Wetlands and Buffers Working Group

The Wetlands and Buffers Working Group (WBWG) was established to review the current regulations related to buffers and respective resources in Sussex County. The County hired the technical experts at RK&K consultants to facilitate these efforts and guide the WBWG to an end goal. Over the course of several months, the WBWG met to discuss the regulations and provide recommendations to County Council.  The Center’s Executive Director, Chris Bason, actively serves as a member of the Wetlands and Buffers Working Group. Visit their webpage, HERE!

Get Involved

The newly adopted buffers ordinance follows a years long process of extensive stakeholder input and public outcry for a more protective ordinance. While it does contain added measures to better protect buffers from disturbance and the County is commended for these gains, a number of concerning rollbacks on the protection of wetlands and water resources are also included. For more details, click HERE. The Center asks the Council to begin work on amendments to the ordinance that increase the width of the buffers, require forests in the buffers, remove options to reduce the width of buffers, and extend buffer requirements to commercial and mixed-use developments.

Members of the public are encouraged to stay engaged by sharing information about buffers to their networks and expressing their desires for policies that will effectively protect and restore waterways through avenues such as social media and letters to the editors of local newspapers. The public may also continue to express their views in general about needed improvements to water quality, flood control, and wildlife habitat to their elected officials.

To view the passed ordinance, please visit the County’s website HERE.

Resources for You

  • Center Comments on Passage of Buffer Ordinance – May 17, 2022 HERE
  • Wetlands and Waterways Buffer Policy Comparison – May 2022 HERE
  • Center Sussex County Buffer Ordinance Presentation – February 16, 2022 HERE
  • Center Presentation to County Council Hearing – January 11, 2022 HERE
  • Center Justification for Markups to County Buffer Ordinance HERE
  • Center Presentation to Public – January 10, 2022 HERE
  • Center Recommended Markups to County Buffer Ordinance HERE
  • Center Letter to the Editor Regarding Buffer Ordinance HERE
  • Sussex County Proposed Buffer Ordinance HERE
  • Center Comments at Buffer Ordinance – P&Z Hearing on November 4, 2021 HERE
  • Center Buffer Infographic – April 2020 HERE
  • Center Buffer Ordinance Factsheet – March 2020 HERE
  • Center Waterfront Property Owner Guidebook & Resource List HERE
  • Center Presentation: Water Quality Buffer Regulations In & Around Delaware HERE
  • Land Use Decision Making and Wetlands Protection: A Guidebook for Public Participation HERE
  • Center Recommendations Report for Water Quality and Wetlands – January 2008 HERE

Permitted Density (ORDINANCE PASSED!)

SUCCESS: This ordinance has passed! The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays would like to thank the Sussex County Council and the supporters that advocated for this ordinance, as well as Councilman Burton for his dedication to protecting our County’s environment. Details are available in the meeting information and audio (120418.2.mp3) for the December 4th County Council Meeting, available on the County Website.


Until now, the County has allowed for high housing density in developments that include unbuildable areas, like wetlands! This concentrates homes in developments near sensitive wetlands and waterways, which degrades our natural resources, adds more impervious surfaces (and stormwater runoff) close to our waterways, and escalates the risk of flooding homes and businesses.

The new ordinance would reduce these effects by subtracting wetlands from the “gross” buildable area. This would reduce the number of homes permitted on areas near high concentrations of wetlands and protect water quality (wetlands act as water filters), preserve natural habitats, and help prevent flooding (wetlands also act as sponges for floodwaters)!

A flooded view of Fenwick Island just after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Get Involved

Relevant County Meetings/ Hearings:

For County Council meeting agendas and details, please visit

Cluster Subdivision Ordinance (ORDINANCE PASSED!)

The County is now considering a proposed amendment to the cluster subdivision ordinance that would make the superior design standards mandatory for developing cluster subdivisions. The superior design standards protect wetlands and wildlife habitat and are voluntary in the current ordinance.

Get Involved

Relevant County Meetings/ Hearings:

County Council Meeting
Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at 10:00 am
2 The Circle, Georgetown, DE

For agendas and details, please visit