The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission this week recommended denial of the three applications by Castways LLC that would pave the way for Castaways Bethany, a proposed development consisting of a campground, multi-family duplex residential units and a water park, located off of Cedar Neck Road in Ocean View.
The commission voted on all three requests separately on Dec. 6, as they had said they would from the beginning of the process, though all three were heard and considered simultaneously at the same public hearings. The project and the applications presented involve three separate parcels, two of which have been the subject of applications for zoning changes and the third of which would require a conditional-use approval.
At the public hearing in September, the attorney for the applicant, Jim Fuquet, explained that the plan calls for 1.02 acres of land adjacent to land already zoned commercial to go from MR medium-residential to CR-1 commercial-residential zoning, to become part of the water park location. He said a water park is a permitted conditional use within a commercial zone, “hence the application” for the conditional use.
The two other parcels, making up about five acres, are being requested to be rezoned from MR to AR agricultural-residential, with a portion to encompass the campground. The third application for a conditional use, addressed the property as a whole, about 38 acres.
All three applications were recommended to be denied, with a vote of 3-2 for each one. Chairman Robert Wheatley and Commissioner Martin Ross dissented on each vote, recommending denial. As with all applications before the commission, Sussex County Council will have the final say.
After the commission voted to recommend denial of the request to rezone about five acres from MR to AR, Wheatley noted that he has “very rarely seen downzoning denied.” Ross said recommending a denial of the downzoning of the parcel “opens up the door to have the applicant come back and ask for an upzone to GR, which has its own pitfalls. But that’s a future thing...”
Ross noted that “the immediate effect is it that makes it impossible… well, it makes it illogical, I should say, to have a motion to approve the CU, because in recommending denial of the AR downzoning, now the CU doesn’t have the underlying zoning for the RV park. So, it effectively kills the CU.”
“Given that consideration, what we are looking at is simply expanding the commercial zone by once acre, without a specified use, because now the CU is effectively dead... Personally, I don’t think it’s wise to expand commercial zoning areas without having an understanding of why we’re doing it and, at the present time, that is where we are at. I would be opposed to the commercial zoning approval, given that the previous motion passed.”
Wheatley said he felt the same way. Despite that, after Commissioner Rodney Smith read his motion to deny the application, with the reasons included, both Wheatley and Ross went on to vote against recommending a denial of the change of zone. Ross said later that his vote was more based on not agreeing with the rationale used by Smith, and not the intent of the motion.
Finally, the commission voted to deny the conditional use, which would have encompassed the property involved in the two change-of-zone applications and was the bulk of the combined parcels. The conditional use would have permitted the multi-family dwelling structures, a campground and an outdoor amusement area on about 38.53 acres total. That motion to recommend denying approval received a 3-2 vote, as well, with Wheatley and Ross dissenting.
The project has gotten considerable opposition from nearby residents and neighbors since the original September public hearing, with opponents’ arguments against approval including that it would generate traffic the road cannot handle, noise from the waterpark, a negative effect on property values, and a general idea that the project was not suitable for the area and its existing uses.
Arguments made for the project included that it is near the tourist and recreational activities that attract most people to southeastern Sussex County, including the beach, the bay and wildlife areas, and would add jobs and revenue to the already-growing area.
To the rear of the site are federal- and state-protected wetlands. To the north is a development called The Reservation. There is a house with land to the south, and farther south of that are an existing RV sales and camper storage business, a multi-family structure and Magnolia’s restaurant.
Ross stated that the two RV businesses that exist there now were there prior to county zoning ordinances and that an additional RV site “would not be out of character” with the existing residential areas and businesses. He stated that DelDOT not having an objection to the project and the commission denying it based on concerns of traffic would “not stand challenge of a legal appeal.”
He said it is an appropriate use of land in a tourism center with water and sewer available.
Smith said he “honors and put a good deal of thought into the thoughts and fears of those objecting,” especially where property values are concerned, and that the applicant’s claim of “wanting to be a good neighbor” cannot be validated.
Commissioner Michael B. Johnson said that, as an RV owner, he “could only imagine driving a 37.5-foot motor home with an 18-foot vehicle behind it on Route 26 on a Saturday,” reflecting one of the concerns brought up by opponents during the public hearing process.
“I take exceptions to some of the points made by Mr. Ross concerning the two RV places that exist today,” he added, saying that they couldn’t be compared “in any way, shape or fashion” to the proposed Castaways campground and RV park, because many of the ones there now “are there to stay.”
“The applicant has stated he really wants to rent by the day. He has no intention of renting by the season, maybe some weeklies.”
He also said the two RV parks that exist now were there before zoning ordinances and “are kind of minor and out of the way, whereas this one is face-front.”
“It’s too much,” he concluded.
Castaways was described in the hearings as having three components: 139 camp sites with sewer and water and electric hook-ups for RVs, two bathhouses and laundry facilities, 60 “semi-detached” multi-family duplex-type residential units, and a water park, complete with water slides, a wave pool, a children’s pool, lockers with showers and a place to purchase food, drinks, suntan lotion, etc., within the water park.
As proposed, the water park would be open to both campers and visitors to the rental units, as well as to members of the public. Fuquet argued that the property would be developed in phases, would bring jobs to the area and is consistent with the County and State’s plan for tourism.
Smith, in his motion for a recommendation of denial, asked if the denial of the two change-of-zone applications was enough of a reason to give for denial of the conditional use requested for the entire project, or if more reasons should be given.
Vince Robertson, assistant county attorney, said, “My job as a county attorney is to be able to argue the record on the appeal if someone takes an appeal, so if you’ve got something to say that is relevant to the record, I’d like it to be said. … That’s certainly a justification, if you so choose to make it, that the underlying change of zones were denied,” he added.
Wheatley replied, “I will make one observation though, if the order had to be reversed on how we voted, you wouldn’t have that to rely on. I am concerned that that’s a pretty weak argument.”
Robertson reiterated to Smith that, if he had a point regarding the entire project, to make it, because it would only help the county council to have as much information as possible in the record when they make their ultimate decision. “There ought to be all the reasons that you have so that they can make an informed decision.”
Smith did use the two previous denials in his reasoning for the third and echoed many of the sentiments brought up by opposition, arguing that the proposal should be recommended for denial based on the fact that the two underlying requests for zoning supporting it were recommended for denial, and also that it is not consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan, that it is not consistent with surrounding properties or uses, and that other locations along major arterial roadways would be more appropriate.
He addressed the two existing RV parks, saying they pre-date the current comprehensive plan and “trends of the area,” citing the Key Box Five RV/mobile home park as being recently re-developed as single-family condominium units. He also argued that no other parties besides the applicants and their representatives ever publicly spoke in favor of the project and said the “proposed use as a transient campground and water park is not consistent with the county’s plan for the area.”
“The proposed use as a water park with the accompanying traffic, noise, lighting, waterslides and other amusement structures is not compatible with residential properties that exist up and down Cedar Neck Road.”
He also questioned traffic concerns and concerns with how pedestrians along the road and coming from the campground would be taken into account when crossing the street.
“The traffic concerns along Cedar Neck Road are self-evident. I am not satisfied the road can handle it.”
The audio of the Dec. 6 meeting, in its entirety, is available online at sussexcountyde.gov.