Banks Wines & Spirits looking to expand

Banks Wines & Spirits plans to expand their parking lot, add storage and reconfigure its entrance and exit. But its neighbor is concerned about the effect on stormwater ponds.

On March 10, Banks Wines & Spirits sought preliminary site plan approval, which the Millville Town Council unanimously granted (with Councilman Steve Maneri absent).

Architect Jeff Clark of Land Tech Land Planning LLC explained the purpose for improvements to the store on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Town Center Drive.

“During the tourist season, the entering traffic was fine. The exiting traffic,” said Clark, queued up when trying to cross traffic. “This was a problem they wanted to try and resolve. If we could somehow accomplish a new intersection that exists in the three-way intersection in the shopping center, that would be ideal.” If that happens, it would create a four-way intersection.

Banks plans to make the current entrance/exit an “enter only”; move the main service entrance and exit farther down Town Center Drive, to create a four-way intersection closer to Giant; build a new warehouse with delivery truck unloading zones; and add the cherry of providing as-needed access to the Millville Volunteer Fire Company.

“If traffic backs up, Millville Fire can access the four-way during an emergency,” Clark said.

That will also mean a slight reconfiguring of the parking lot, plus the interior retail space.

Where the water goes

But The Villas at Cedar Cove is a neighborhood of multifamily units located behind Banks and Super Giant grocery store, and homeowners’ association President Ronald Palmieri is concerned about how the expansion will affect the stormwater pond between Banks and The Villas.

He contended at the March 10 meeting that Pond #9 is owned 40 percent by The Villas homeowners, “and the community must be involved in any decision-making as it pertains thereto.”

“When they put Giant up, [the developer] needed a percentage of the pond. Somehow they took 60 percent of the pond. We’ve been paying for [40 percent],” Palmieri said.

However, Town of Millville records differ on the matter.

“Our records indicate that Millville Town Center owns [the pond]. However, there is an agreement between their homeowner association and Capano [Management Company] that Capano maintains 60 percent [and The Villas maintains 40 percent], but nothing is land ownership,” Town Manager Debbie Botchie said.

Sharing stormwater maintenance responsibilities is “fairly common,” noted Seth Thompson, town solicitor.

“None of the stormwater from this site currently goes into Pond #9, adjacent the site, and there won’t be any,” Clark said.

Palmieri said he felt it would truly end up there anyway.

“I may sound cavalier … but we’re put to the test by [the Sussex Conservation District],” Clark said.

Town Hall, the State and County will review copies of the grading plans for the Banks project.

Palmieri said a recent rainstorm had flooded the Giant parking lot and prevented residents from driving home. He said Route 26 construction is not helping, either.

“We’re not contributing a drop to your pond,” Clark said, calling that rainstorm a “freak storm” that dropped many inches in a few hours. “No one could afford to design at that level.”

Town Engineer Kyle Gulbronson of URS agreed that it was practically a 100-year storm event.

“We want to be friendly [neighbors],” said resident Ronald Lips, but “the major expense of our community is pond management. I’m the treasurer. We can’t afford a major expense because of [bad water management].”

“We’re not trying to be malicious,” Palmieri agreed. “I’m responsible for all 68 homeowners. After I had an issue with the tax-ditch,” he said of a time when the water flow was obstructed by a fallen tree on someone else’s property, that he was told that “everything that touches our property is our responsibility, too.”

Banks has proposed filling in an old ditch that Clark said two government agencies made no claim to.

“Sussex Conservation asked us to put catch basins directly over the pipe,” Clark said. “When you meter these storm events, the folks down street — their peak flows are all coming after the storm’s been going on for a while. DNREC wants us to release our water first. Mathematically, it helps the flow of Pond #9.”

“The council’s going to make sure state agencies do their job and stormwater is handled properly,” Thompson said.

Mayor Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr. asked about the fire company access.

“What’s going to stop it being a throughway for some of the members or someone wanting to cut through?” Hocker asked, especially if the property is ever sold.

Banks has already recommended that MVFC install a cattle gate or similar barrier, which would prevent trespassing, to be opened only in an emergency, Clark said. “We told them that would be on them to do it. We’re not going to pay.”

Banks’ proposal bypassed Planning & Zoning because, when the application was submitted, the town engineer and P&Z have a certain number of days to review it. But P&Z was unexpectedly without quorum for its scheduled meeting.

So, to stay on schedule, the site plan went straight to the Town Council. If neither board had reviewed it in a timely manner, Botchie said, the site plans could be automatically approved.

First look at the budget

Botchie on March 10 also reviewed the 2016-fiscal-year draft budget. The draft included no municipal street aid from the State, because Gov. Jack Markell will likely propose to decrease that statewide, from $5 to $3 million, she said.

Local government agencies are “all writing letters to not allow that to happen,” she said. “Honestly, it doesn’t affect Millville the way affects neighboring towns, because they own roads [at great cost]. We want to back our neighbors on this.”

Millville does not own any roads, but typically receives $4,000 for its street lights, based on its 544 residents.

“We are in good shape, but we’re supporting our neighbors on that,” she added.

On the subject of police protection, at the current rate of hiring Delaware State Police for 12 hours weekly, Millville will pay $61,000 for that police coverage. However, the Town should be eligible again for the $12,500 Sussex County grant for municipalities that contract with the DSP and have a neighborhood watch.

“That’s far less than putting our own cop on the street,” Botchie said.

“I think it’s been worth the money, because people are feeling there’s somebody out there really checking on them,” Kent said.

So far, Millville has only experienced traffic violations and a few complaint calls, but nothing criminal.

Millville still has a $457,000 police fund, which is continually boosted by 10 percent of its transfer tax revenues.

The Town will pay for the Great Pumpkin Festival this year, Botchie said, and will not seek contributions.

“We’ve been saving money for this,” specifically $79,000 collected from 5 percent of transfer tax revenues. “We’re in good shape, so thank you for doing that for the community,” Botchie told the council.

The Holiday Market cost has increased from $500 to $1,300, to pay for children’s activities and for church clean-up, as a thank you.

Engineering fees will increase, since “We still have many hours left to review our Town Code,” she said.

In other Millville news:

• The council gave nonconforming businesses a little wiggle room to expand, by unanimously passing Ordinance 15-02, which amended Town Code (Chapter 155, Article VIII, Section 155-37.A). This did not apply to Banks, Botchie noted.

Typically, no existing structure that is considered “nonconforming” may be altered without coming into conformity with code. However, within the C1-Commercial District, “any commercial use and structure which existed and was permitted on May 13, 1992, but is now nonconforming may be extended or enlarged on one occasion during its permitted nonconformity, provided that the extension or enlargement does not exceed 50 percent of the gross floor area existing on May 13, 1992.”

That might apply to any C1 structure that was already permitted by the County on May 13, 1992, when the Town’s first zoning ordinance was enacted.

This “allows a one-time expansion or right to expand, provided it’s no bigger than 50 percent of the area … and the extension can’t violate some other zoning, like the setback,” Thompson said.

So if the County had approved the building, the business can expand once and still be legally “non-conforming.”

“They’ll still be subject to the usual process, like submitting a site plan,” Thompson clarified for a resident.

• Councilmembers Susan Brewer, Robert “Bob” Gordon and Harry Kent were sworn in for two-year terms.

• Town council leadership positions were elected, but unchanged for 2015: Hocker remains mayor, while other leadership positions remain with Deputy Mayor Gordon, Treasurer Kent and Secretary Maneri.

The next regular Millville Town Council meeting is Tuesday, April 14, at 7 p.m.