February 9, 2001
On Tuesday, February 6, the Sussex County Council issued its long-awaited rezoning decision on the Americana Bayside project. The 887-acre proposal, which includes a full-length 18-hole golf course, caused extensive and heated debate since first announced in November 1999.
The controversy centered on the original proposal by the developer, Carl M. Freeman Communities, to build over 2,800 homes and nearly 225,000 square feet of commercial space. Nonetheless, the golf course also contributed to the conversation about the impact of the Fenwick area rezoning.
Last winter, for example, Councilman George Cole suggested that neither the golf course nor the wetlands acreage on the property should count toward the density credit calculations required for rezoning as a Residential Planned Community. I agreed with Cole with respect to wetlands, but disagreed with him about golf courses.
The Council’s decision to cut the maximum number of residential units to no more than 1,700 units and reduce the commercial space surprised many people, including the developers. Ken Green, project director for Americana Bayside, announced after the Council vote that in the coming months the developer would review all the new conditions imposed by the County.
The Council also adopted an upcoming State standard for future golf course development proposals. They decreed that among other conditions,
The Applicant shall establish ‘best management practices’ in regard to golf course maintenance and protection of non-tidal wetlands. The operator of the golf course shall file a Nutrient Management Program with the appropriate State agency.
These “best management practices (‘BMPs’)” and Nutrient Management requirements are brand new. On the other hand, they should have been expected.
In June 1999, the General Assembly created the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission. The new board is to develop, approve, and enforce nutrient management standards for agricultural operations and other large-scale property uses. On January 10, 2001, for example, the Commission’s first set of regulations relating to farming operations went into effect.
Working with the Delaware Department of Agriculture and other state agencies, the new Commission also includes among its members Ed Brown, the superintendent at Rehoboth Beach Country Club.
Brown said the Commission will soon begin drafting the nutrient management and BMP regulations for golf courses. “I’ll be meeting on March 7 with about 15 other golf course superintendents from all over the state to develop draft regulations from the industry perspective. Once we complete our work, it will then go before the Commission’s technical advisory committee for further analysis. It will probably be at least this summer before a draft is completed and ready for public comment.”
Brown is confident that an agreement on the golf course regulations will be fairly easy to achieve, at least compared to the poultry industry issues that delayed the first set of Commission regulations.
“Most golf courses practice BMPs already. It’s just that the superintendents haven’t been as good at getting the word out about what they do for the environment,” Brown said. “For example, we soil test regularly, because it’s the best way to make sure we apply only the nutrients we need to obtain the desired result.”
“I consider superintendents to be careful stewards of the environment,” Brown continued. “It’s what we do every day. As for the regulations, it’s just a matter of getting what we do written down on paper. There are a lot of variables. For example, some courses use effluent water, and others don’t. We also work in at least three different soil types throughout the state. Even so, we should be able to reach common ground fairly easily.”
Delaware’s nutrient management regulations are a new and vital part of the State’s efforts to protect and preserve the environment. Other parts of the Americana Bayside decision will continue the ongoing debate over appropriate land use. Nonetheless, applying the new BMP rules to golf courses should be acceptable to even the most pro-development advocates.