Be heard: Planning begins for Dagsboro Downtown district


What do people see in Dagsboro’s future?

Dagsboro could win grant money to create a truly thriving downtown. So now is the time to plan, with a new task force forming to write the Downtown Development District Plan.

On Nov. 12, the Task Force started discussing a “mini comprehensive plan” for the downtown development area, said AECOM planner Debbie Pfeil.

This plan “sets forth a vision, identifies opportunities and obstacles and tools to incentivize economic development, [plus] a priority project that could kick start development downtown,” said AECOM planner Lauren Good.

The Town will prepare a district map and plan, including community events, natural resources, outreach, marketing and more.

First proposed by Gov. Jack Markell in 2014, Downtown Development Districts get funding to stimulate growth in downtown areas, including housing and business. After the first three towns received state money, the program stalled for financial reasons.

But Dagsboro should plan now for when the state is ready to give more funding.

Now, AECOM is overseeing the process and doing the legwork of synthesizing data into a plan. But the residents, business and property owners need to share their vision for Dagsboro’s future.

With state grant money, AECOM (formerly URS Corporation) is helping the Town of Dagsboro prepare a Downtown Development District Plan. AECOM hopes to be the consultant on any future projects, since the company applied for this grant for free. Money comes from the Neighborhood Building Blocks Fund, funded by settlement money JP Morgan Chase & Co. paid to remedy harm caused by the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Dagsboro has already laid decent groundwork, Good said. The Comprehensive Plan encourages a more walkable community and economic development. The Town already has a larger town center zoning district and development design standards.

It takes public and political will to make the Downtown Development District happen.

What’s in a downtown?

District size is based on population, so Dagsboro’s could be up to 85 acres. Currently at 33 acres, Dagsboro’s draft map has room to grow. A total of 49 parcels were identified on Main Street, all of which were pulled from the much larger Town Center zoning district.

“We do want to have your input if you think there are properties that should be included … or should be removed,” said Pfeil.

The Nov. 12 group reviewed stats, like parking, population, sidewalks, environment and building vacancies. From 2000 to 2010, the town population increased by nearly 200 people in ten years, 17 of whom joined the district boundaries.

Dagsboro has a high rate homeowner-occupied houses, which Pfeil said is good because those people “should help direct how the district goes … people wanna live and invest here.”

Look for the survey

Next, the task force will learn what the public wants, to cater to the locals or really catch some of the beach traffic.

AECOM will kick off its town survey at Dagsboro Fire Hall during the Christmas parade with a family photo booth and. The more surveys — from residents and out-of-towners — the stronger the final document will be.

“If I had a business in downtown Dagsboro,” Pfeil said, “I’d definitely want to know what my customers think. Should I stay open late?”

Challenges and opportunities

One challenge is traffic. Dagsboro’s downtown Main Street funnels all the highway traffic from Route 113 to the beach. Residents talked about the difficulty of even exiting a driveway on Main Street. Despite crosswalks, Gayle Chandler said pedestrian walkways don’t feel safe.

“I hope it stays small-town, not like Ocean City. It’s not a beach town,” Chandler said.

“The appeal is that it is a small town. I want to raise my kids in this town,” said Chef Matt Kern.

Kern has lived in Dagsboro for about five years, and he wants to work here, too. He and his wife dream of opening a restaurant, which would reduce Kern’s commute to a bike ride downtown.

“The amount of traffic we see is why we jumped on this property,” Kern said of the beach traffic.

He’d like Dagsboro to be more of “a destination place,” but not with paid parking. A few good businesses can attract more, like coffee, ice cream or bookshops.

“I think the location is perfect for attracting business,” said business owner Kathy Lewis.

However, Dagsboro is too small to be another Berlin, Md., although it could be “a lot more fun,” Lewis said. “Dagsboro is a though fare to the beach … it could be an on-the-way to the beach destination.”

Welcome to the task force

Dagsboro’s Task Force includes four planning commissioners, one town administrator and two volunteers who signed up Nov. 12. Any Dagsboro stakeholder is invited to participate, from residents to the owners of vacant lots.

The ideal task force could have up to 20 members, so more residents and business owners are welcome to chime in. The more diversity of opinions, the better.

The next meeting is in January. Anyone may submit comments if they can’t attend.

The final downtown plans will be ready by March for public review, June for final approval.

“The time commitment that we’re asking from people is three more meetings,” once monthly, said Pfeil.

“The task force is very important to us because this is your plan … the Dagsboro plan,” Good said. “We need to know from you what local merchants need from you to succeed.”

Through these meetings and a community survey, the team will discover Dagsboro’s strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats.

“Every meeting, we’ll bring this board back and brainstorm,” said Pfeil, taking notes from the public conversation that day.

For more information on the Downtown Development District Plan, contact Town Hall at (302) 732-3777 or AECOM’s Lauren Good at (302) 781-5906 or lauren.good@aecom.com.