Botanic garden application recommended for approval

The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 12 to recommend that an application from Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens Inc., for “flagship” botanic gardens and a related visitor center, conservatory, theater, nature center and parking, be approved as a conditional use.

The commission noted that a decision on the application for the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek had been deferred on July 11, but no parties had appeared in opposition to the application.

The plan would place the facility on 36.99 acres of land in an AR-1 (Agricultural-Residential) district near Dagsboro, south of Piney Neck Road and west of Bunting Road. The parcel is owned by the Sussex County Land Trust but would be leased to the nonprofit for 99 years, with the option of renewal.

Commissioner Rodney Smith moved that the application be recommended to the county council, as the use as a botanic garden was compatible with the agricultural zoning of the property, and that, as the site is in the Environmentally Sensitive Developing District Overlay Zone, the use for public gardens and environmental education was appropriate for the zone.

“It has a public character; it protects the natural, cultural, agricultural and recreational resources through inspirational, educational and sustainable public gardens for the benefit and enjoyment of the public,” added Smith.

Although the application was recommended for approval, the commission recommended that be done with certain stipulations, including a landscaped berm and heavy vegetation around the property, the hours of public access be Monday through Sunday, from 8 a.m. to dusk, with the exception of 11 p.m. closing times for special events, and that the construction of the gardens meet the requirements of state and county agencies.

The commission voted 5-0 to recommend approval of the application, which now goes on to the Sussex County Council for consideration.

The group has said the project is expected to generate approximately 394 new jobs in the region, with 110 full- and part-time jobs in the gardens themselves. It was also estimated that the gardens would bring $33 million to the local economy of the surrounding area. Its annual attendance is estimated at 84,000 people per year. The various phases of the project are estimated to be completed in five to eight years, if approved.