County approves conditional use for Sussex Consortium

The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission this week voted in favor of approving a conditional use request for 25 acres of AR-1 land, located on the southwest side of Sweetbriar Road in Lewes, to build a new school for the Sussex Consortium.

The Sussex Consortium is a comprehensive program, pre-K through age 21, preparing students with special needs for successful transitions toward a meaningful adult life.

The Consortium started in 1975 as a pilot project between the Children’s Beach House Inc. and the Cape Henlopen School District, with the purpose of serving students in the area who had severe learning disabilities. It has since evolved to providing educational opportunities for students with special needs, including those who are autistic.

The application was submitted on behalf of the Cape Henlopen School District; however, the Consortium serves all of Sussex County.

Georgetown attorney Jim Fuqua, who presented the application on behalf of the school district, said the Consortium has grown from 95 students in 2003 to more than 280 students today.

The main facility is housed in the old Lewes school building on Savannah Road in Lewes; however, there are additional classrooms at the Cape district’s high school, two middle schools and two elementary schools.

“This new school would be designed, constructed and tailored to accommodate the needs of its students. The Consortium student-teacher ratio is approximately 4.3 students per teacher.”

Fuqua said the fully built-out building would be two stories and would contain about 98,000 square feet. The building would be built in stages, with the main building being constructed first, at 60,000 square feet.

The future school would contain classrooms, administrative offices, a gymnasium, cafeteria, kitchen, secure courtyard, swimming pool and locker rooms.

Fuqua said the school would be able to accommodate 410 students — beyond what the current student enrollment is. He added that the parcel in question is in the County’s designated growth area.

Commissioners approved the application with a 4-0 vote.

County considers revamping commercial districts

That same evening, the commissioners reviewed a presentation by AECOM land-use planner Kyle Gulbronson regarding the county’s commercial zoning districts.

Commission Attorney Vince Robertson said the County Council had made the request for the review in light of recent applications and the trends in concerns raised in rezoning applications.

“The idea is … to make it so that the zoning districts for commercial uses, commercial districts, aren’t so wide open, so that if somebody applies for a district, there’s a coordinated understanding of what can go in there. It leads to more predictability for all those involved.”

The County currently has four commercial zones — Urban Business (with 125 uses); Neighborhood Business (with 65 uses); General Commercial, which is closed (with 109 uses); and Commercial Residential (with 110 uses).

The possible solution, said Gulbronson, would be to close the zoning districts the County currently has and create seven new zones: Neighborhood Business, Medium Commercial, Heavy Commercial, Planned Commercial District, Service/Limited Manufacturing, Professional Office and Institutional.

“This is very preliminary. This could change,” he said. “It most likely will change as we go through this process.”

The Neighborhood Business district would primarily serve for retail shopping and personal service uses. The Medium Commercial district would accommodate community commercial uses that do not have outside storage or sales. The Heavy Commercial District would be intended for larger scale auto-oriented retail and service businesses along or near major traffic routes that serve local and regional residents, as well as the traveling public.

The Planned Commercial District would be for carefully planned, large-scale commercial, retail and mixed-use developments as a means of creating a superior shopping, working and living environment through unified developments. The Service/Limited Manufacturing District would be used to maintain and facilitate the growth and expansion of small-scale light industrial, wholesale distribution and personal service uses.

The Professional Office District would be intended for office building, office park and professional park development uses. The Institutional District would serve for schools, hospitals, EMS stations and related uses.

“This was just an interim step to start to get some ideas together and really looking at the uses we have,” said Gulbronson.