Thursday, September 28, 2023
Courthouse News Service
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Court Splits Decision on Environmental Mapping

WILMINGTON, Del. (CN) - In response to a class action, the Delaware Chancery Court has conserved one set of state-generated environmental maps while scrapping another.

About 3,000 landowners claimed that two mapping designations made by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources violated their due process and property rights.

The court determined that the landowners lacked standing to challenge Natural Area designations on state maps since 1981, because the label is merely a "wish list" of land recommended for voluntary acquisition.

State Resource Areas have more potential impact, because counties must include them in development plans. The court traced development of current areas through a citizen-based open space council, which was supposed to have established "standards and criteria" for the state to follow in identifying them.

Although the council in 2006 approved a set of State Resource Areas the state used on its maps, the Delaware Chancery Court determined that the maps should be voided because the council never developed the standards and criteria detailed in state law.

Chancery Master Sam Glasscock III expressed some consternation in nullifying current State Resource Areas, writing that "it hardly requires a trained conservationist or an urban planner to see that open space in this state is dwindling alarmingly." The decision sent the planning process back to the department and citizen council.

The ruling denied damages to the plaintiffs, since their legal action had intervened before any actual constitutional violations occurred.

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