Castaways project decision held up by continuing consideration

No decision has been made yet on the proposed rezoning for the Castaways Bethany project, as the county council deferred action this week while waiting for a recommendation from Sussex County Planning & Zoning commissioners.

Castaways Bethany is proposed as a campground, multi-family duplex residential units and waterpark to be located off of Cedar Neck Road near Bethany Beach and Ocean View.

At both their Sept. 13 and Sept 20 meetings, the P&Z deferred action. There were numerous citizens opposing the project by both petitions and spoken testimony. More than 400 letters were received, though P&Z Director Lawrence Lank admitted some were duplicative because of receiving emails, faxes and hard copies from the same people. He also said more than 288 signatures opposing the project were received via petition.

P&Z ultimately deferred action to allow the record to remain open for PLUS documents and DelDOT information that wasn’t available at their first hearing. They have received that information, and citizens can make comments on them until close of business on Friday, Oct. 5. Despite the lack of action on the application, many people came out to voice their opposition in person to county council again this week.

Link to PLUS comments and responses>

Link to DelDOT information>

Members of the public and Mary Schrider-Fox, an attorney representing several homeowners’ associations in the area of the planned project, spoke in opposition, with recurring themes of concerns about noise pollution and the project not fitting in with the character of the neighborhood, and many opponents emphasized that they feel Cedar Neck Road simply can’t handle the amount of traffic such a development would bring.

State Rep. Gerald Hocker, whose property abuts the southern portion of the property, wrote to the county council and said that it would be inappropriate for him as a sitting House member to take a position one way or another on the project. He wrote that he had no financial interest in the project, has no interest in selling any portion of his property and that he had encouraged people to attend the county council meeting.

“I have faith the council will make the right decision,” he wrote.

In addition, the council — at Councilman George Cole’s request — had had a revenue comparison done. The comparison weighs County revenues between the 143-unit multi-family Seasons at Bethany development previously proposed for some of the acreage in question, which has been approved but not yet built, and the cottages that would be built as part of Castaways Bethany. The County would receive $799,075 more revenue if the Seasons at Bethany were built, according to the comparison.

Attorney Jim Fuqua, representing the applicant, said that this was the first time he had seen the comparison and that he wanted to know why Cole had requested it.

“I am concerned if council members start entering exhibits,” he said.

“That’s my job,” Cole replied. “I am not taking any sides. I am just entering facts.”

Fuquet disagreed, saying, “Your job is to decide.”

Afterward, Fuqua said he had read through the comparison and that, while revenue to the County was a minor part of any decision-making, it was also “fundamentally flawed,” because it assumed and compared a full build-out of both projects. He did not object to it being entered into the record, though.

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.

In total, the project area includes 19.9 acres in a northern parcel, 9.45 in the middle parcel and 9.17 acres in the southern parcel, according to Fuqua.

Fuquet said the plan calls for 1.02 acres of land that is adjacent to land already zoned commercial to go from MR medium-residential to CR-1 commercial-residential zoning, to become part of the waterpark location, which is a conditional use within a commercial zone.

Two other portions of the three parcels would go from MR to AR agricultural-residential, with a portion of those to encompass the campground. The third application, for a conditional use, addresses the property as a whole.

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 are an existing RV sales and camper storage business, a multi-family structure and Magnolia’s restaurant.

Fuquet explained that 13.4 acres of the property are zoned multi-residential and 10.7 acres are zoned general commercial.

He described Castaways 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 similar, to the units that are rented currently by the State of Delaware on the north side of the Indian River Inlet 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. The water park would be open to both campers and visitors to the rental units, as well as to members of the public.

He argued that any notions of future impacts should be compared to what is already permitted by right in a general commercial zone — which 10 of the acres in question already are — including uses such as a gas station, a grocery store and numerous retails uses, and not compared to undeveloped land.

“I have read the majority of the letters and am aware of the concerns and objections raised, but I want to stress from the outset that our proposal or any alternative proposal will affect traffic, sewer, noise and other all aspects of land use and land development. But it should not be compared to the current vacant aspect of this property. It has to be compared to possible uses of the site that are already permitted by existing zoning of this land.”

He explained 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.

The first phase would be the water park and associated landscape buffer. The second would be construction of the RV lots and services and the removal of the existing self-storage facility on the property now, along with construction of the 18 cottages closest to the water park. The third stage would be 16 more cottages, and the fourth would be the remaining cottages.

Schrider-Fox spoke on behalf of nearby residential communities and HOAs, including Bethany Lakes, Bayside at Bethany Lakes, the Salt Pond, The Reservation, Cedar Landing and Quillen’s Point, to express opposition.

She argued that, using Sussex County’s own Comprehensive Land Use Plan as a guide, the project does not fit in with the character of the neighborhood, emphasizing that any commercial development is to complement the residential aspect of the area.

“This is completely different than anything in the area, and it would change the nature of Cedar Neck Road forever, as the applicant said he plans on being there forever.”

Todd Burbage of Castaways Bethany LLC had said that he planned to be there “forever,” emphasizing that he was not a developer out to “make a quick buck,” but that he was invested in the community that his family is from and his father had a part in developing. He also reiterated that he has family that lives on Cedar Neck Road and wouldn’t develop a project he thought would undermine either their quality of life or home value.

Jim Gallant, president of the Bethany Lakes Homeowner’s Association also spoke, saying that while he was not against the concept and acknowledged that it was a “smart business model,” he said it was simply about “location, location, location.”

He said it just didn’t fit “in the middle of 29 residential neighborhoods and homes in the surrounding area.”

Other residents echoed the traffic concerns, noise concerns and concerns that it was out of character for the neighborhood. Others concentrated on the environmental impacts of it being so close to both state- and federally-protected wetlands and that impacts of 139 RV sites dumping their sewage.

Elaine Manlove, president of the Cedar Landing homeowner’s association, who also spoke at the P&Z meeting, summed up the traffic, noise and environmental concerns by saying, “The residents can’t handle it, the ecology can’t handle it and the roads can’t handle it.”

The entrance to the park is proposed to be across from the entrance to G&E, which, according to Cole, encompasses quite a stretch of road and is not clearly marked as to what is an entrance and what is an exit, but was “grandfathered in.”

Cole asked where there were similar attractions in the area and Fuqua said the closest would be Jungle Jim’s or the waterpark at Midway, off of Route 1 in Rehoboth Beach.

“But, if we wanted to put something on Route 1, we’d get the other side of the argument, with people saying there’s already too much on Route 1,” he surmised.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver asked how important the waterpark is to the development as a whole, and Fuquet said that, since the campground doesn’t have the draw of the bay or something similar, they needed such an amenity to draw visitors.

The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission will have the applications on a future agenda, for recommendation of approval or denial. Sussex County Council typically acts after a recommendation is made by P&Z.