Hearing on Castaways project elicits strong response

In a marathon four-hour meeting with more than 100 opponents present and hundreds more making their opinions known through letters of opposition, Sussex County Planning & Zoning commissioners this week deferred action on the application of Castaways Bethany LLC for a proposed development consisting of a campground, multi-family duplex residential units and a waterpark, collectively to be known as Castaways Bethany, located off of Cedar Neck Road near Ocean View.

Commissioners decided to leave the record of the public hearing open for receipt of Preliminary Land Use Service (PLUS) comments and rebuttals and a “letter of no objection” from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT). After receipt of the PLUS comments is announced in a public agenda, the public will have 14 days to review the comments and give their response.

Pending that, the next time Castaways Bethany is listed on P&Z agenda is Thursday, Sept. 20 at 6 p.m.

Members of the public and 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 emphasizing that they feel Cedar Neck Road simply can’t handle the amount of traffic such a development would bring.

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 the applicant’s attorney, Jim Fuquet.

He 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. He said a water park is a permitted conditional use within a commercial zone, “hence the application” for the conditional use.

Two other portions of the three parcels would go from MR to AR agricultural-residential, with a portion of those would 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 of that are an existing RV sales and camper storage business, a multi-family structure and Magnolia’s restaurant.

Fuquet said that “As of tonight, 13.4 acres are zoned multi-residential and 10.7 are zoned general commercial.” He also stated that there is an already-approved 143 unit multi-family residential development called The Seasons within the northern and middle pieces.

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, but in my opinion architecturally superior 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 already are — including 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.

Mary Schrider-Fox, a local attorney, 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.

“Maybe it’s a wonderful project in Ocean City...” she said, adding that Fred Hudson and Cedar Neck roads offered a quieter residential area.

“There are a few commercial establishments, a grocery store, a restaurant and RV storage place, but they complement the area.”

She also cited the Sussex County Comprehensive Land Use Plan, saying that “right out of the gate, there’s a little bit of a problem.” She quoted the section of the plan that says that, within a campsite, under a certain type of conditional use, “small retail businesses intended for the primary occupants of the park area, e.g.: grocery stores, beauty shops and automatic laundry services shall be permitted.’

“A water park doesn’t fit in,” she said. “In our opinion, this project, which a significant portion of it is a water park — and a water park certainly doesn’t fit in with businesses that are deemed appropriate within a campsite. It caters to members of the public, as well. It is designed to attract people who are not staying there.”

Elaine Manlove, president of the Cedar Landing homeowner’s association, said her first thought when she heard of it was, “Are you kidding me?”

She said locals and visitors know how to get out of the parking lot at G&E — which also serves the associated hardware store, as well as a clothing store and a gas station — by having done it for years, but there is no rhyme or reason to entering or exiting.

“To put something across the street is unconscionable.”

Also, in speaking about the state and federal wetlands to the rear of the property, she said, “It goes against everything that has been done to protect that area.”

Several other people spoke of their concerns about the project’s proximity to the wetlands, the noise of the park and safety, but many concentrated on the traffic issue.

“How are emergency responders going to get to us?” in a crisis, asked David Green of Quillen’s Point. “There is one way in and one way out.”

John Voight testified that it takes him 45 minutes to go three miles to church in the summer, one way. “Before you allow this thing to blow up, think about it. Can we handle the traffic?”

Steve Callanen of Quillen’s Point related that a neighbor had been hit while biking on Cedar Neck Road and had later died of his injuries. He said shoulders and bike lanes were necessary along the road in its entirety, because it is traveled by so many walking, biking and driving.

“Until that takes place, it seems ludicrous to think that anything would be done to increase traffic and danger.”

Todd Burbage, a partner in Castaways Bethany LLC who purchased a similar business near Ocean City in 2005, said he wanted to be a good neighbor.

“My brother lives on that road. If I thought in any way it would jeopardize his way of life, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t have to do it. I want to do it.”

Rick Santer, the last speaker of the evening, urged the commission members to take into account everything they had heard from the opposition that night when making their decision.

“Just close your eyes and pretend you’re us,” he said.

Chairman Robert Wheatley said they would and thanked the members of the audience for coming out, saying “It’s the only way we know anyone cares.”

The commissioners could make a recommendation on the approval for Castaways Bethany as soon as their meeting on Thursday, Sept. 20, at 6 p.m. Once they make their recommendation, Sussex County Council members will make a final decision on the applications, after having heard from the public at their own public hearing.