Council plumbs fundamentals

Dagsboro Town Council members touched some bedrock issues related to growth at their June 27 council meeting, before a full house of concerned citizens.

The Bethel Center (council’s temporary home) was filled to capacity, with every seat unfolded and several people standing on the perimeter as council members launched into what would be a 4.5-hour meeting.

And as perhaps the main indicator of the high level of concern among the locals — there was no single topic for which they’d all gathered.

Some were hot about this application, some were angry about that application, few were in the least assuaged by the design elements accompanying cluster subdivision, and everyone was frustrated by traffic.

Late in the meeting, Council Member Andy Engh characterized the area’s development boom as a wave — one that had reached a crest in recent months.

He credited Main Street resident William Chandler for recognizing changes on the horizon a few years ahead of time, offering input and working with the town to achieve infrastructure improvements, before that wave broke onto Dagsboro.

However (perhaps basing his statement on the atmosphere in the room that night), Engh said it appeared they hadn’t done enough.

Chandler suggested no one had been truly prepared.

He revisited his recommendation that the town impose a moratorium on new projects (excepting the subdivision of four or fewer lots), other than the projects already in the pipeline.

Planner Kyle Gulbronson (URS), on retainer with Dagsboro, said he was working out a moratorium document for Georgetown, which was facing a similar (although slightly more dramatic) development boom.

“They had plans for 5,000 residential units coming down, right on top of them, and said, ‘Stop — let’s take a little time and do this right,’” Gulbronson pointed out.

He said they were putting together comprehensive standards guidelines, for everything from parking to landscaping, and looking at a residential-planned community (RPC) ordinance.

In the meantime, Gulbronson said it was possible to achieve higher density and still retain the small-town feel. He noted Georgetown’s Cinderberry Estates (small single-family homes) as a successful model. (However, the developer lived in that community himself, Gulbronson added — not necessarily the norm.)

Lawyer Dennis Schrader, who’d earlier in the meeting represented the General’s Green development (524 residential units on 115 acres), noted Paynter’s Mill as a good example of a high quality, higher-density mixed use.

Chandler, however, pointed to a recent University of Delaware survey, wherein respondents listed (1) less traffic and (2) single-family character, as the two things they most wanted to see.

As Town Solicitor Tempe Steen noted, some towns had in fact adopted philosophies for growth that resisted the suburbanization that sometimes accompanied state anti-sprawl strategies.

Council Member Kurt Czapp asked Gulbronson what the council could expect to see after all pending development cleared the table and heard that there wasn’t really much left in town — maybe five parcels in the 20-acre range.

Council took no action on Chandler’s recommended moratorium. The hour growing late, Engh effectively tabled the discussion with a move for adjournment. His colleagues unanimously agreed, trimming the agenda in the process — but they’d covered a fair sheaf of business items already.

• John Murray (Kercher Engineering) presented Charlie Zonko’s application for a 15-lot clustered subdivision on 7.9 acres west of Main Street.

Zonko said he hoped to dispatch his crews to the project during the summer months (since beach towns were more restrictive of work hours at that time), and he anticipated phasing at two or three homes per year over the next five years.

However, the town does not permit dead-end roads of greater than 400 feet in length, as Murray noted — but the shape of the lot necessitated just that. They’d offered a turnabout, three-quarters of the way in, to address that — but Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company member Al Townsend said the fire company didn’t recommend such features.

Murray suggested a “mountable curb,” but there was a more serious problem with the application – town code requires a minimum 8 acres for clustering.

Engh moved to deny the application, but that motion died. Council Member Clay Hall moved to table, and that motion passed unanimously — the developers may either seek a variance or go for simple subdivision.

• Council unanimously approved a 52-unit clustered subdivision, as presented by Frank Kea (Frank Kea Communities). The project, called Vines Creek Village, will be located on a 23-acre parcel, just north (closer to Route 26) of the National Guard armory, on Armory Road (Route 20).

Kea, representing the Catholic Diocese Foundation, addressed a debate with neighbors to the east, who had voiced concerns about the proposed landscaping buffer.

The buffer might lead to possible problems with tree roots invading septic systems, narrow pathways for landscaping around sheds, leaves in branches falling into swimming pools (and associated safety concerns, with children and pets wandering over from the proposed development), the neighbors said.

Clustered subdivisions must include 10-foot buffer zones, one way or another, but several residents asked for a fence instead of landscaping. However, as Kea pointed out, that would mean placing the fence within 6 inches of the property line, or there would be no way for residents of the planned development to maintain the buffer. Neighbors suggested they could continue to maintain that area, as they had always done, but Kea said there would be no guarantee that, if they sold, the next people would do the same.

Council Member Jamie Kollock floated the possibility of a landscape maintenance easement for the neighbors, but as Kea noted, that mechanism still wouldn’t guarantee said maintenance.

Kollock changed tack. He asked why Kea had opted for the clustered subdivision in the first place. (As Kea had earlier stated, he could have subdivided into 66 lots, but was only getting 52 with the cluster overlay.)

Kea said they’d felt smaller lots and interspersed open space made for better design — “and to be quite frank, better value,” he added.

However, Chandler challenged the math behind 66 and Kea admitted the land would probably yield less than 50 lots as a simple subdivision, after subtracting land for roads and stormwater management.

Chandler recommended council approve the development at that lower number of lots, to create a project more in line with Dagsboro’s character, and less impactful on local infrastructure.

Mayor Brad Connor expressed reluctance to send Kea away for yet another plan revision.

“When (Kea) first came before us, we told him we didn’t like his project at all — but he’s done what we told him to do,” Connor said. Chandler still objected, saying he wasn’t asking for a drastic reduction in the number of units, but council unanimously voted for approval.

Engh reminded Kea that the county still might cut the project short, due to limited sewer capacity.

• Schrader presented the revised General’s Green project (north side of Clayton Avenue), as a preliminary concept, as noted above. He said they’d spoken to Chuck Hauser (Davis, Bowen & Friedel) about hookup to the town’s new water infrastructure and Assistant County Engineer Russell Archut about sewer capacity.

According to Schrader, Archut had informed them that they would likely need to make upgrades at the Piney Neck Wastewater Treatment Plant itself, to mitigate the impact of more than 500 new residential units.

Engh asked about phasing, and Schrader said they planned to build out in fourths (125 or so units per year). Gulbronson said the town might be considering a more gradual phasing mechanism, due to the limited sewer capacity — possibly a maximum cap on building units per year, or a requirement that developers build out the infrastructure first.

Schrader also said they’d submitted a raw-data traffic count to the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), and they were compiling the numbers to see what upgrades the developers would need to make on Route 26.

At that point, discontented locals interjected comment — (1) estimates were based on two cars per unit (which would mean another 1,000-odd cars) — four to six would be more realistic, they said; (2) the streets couldn’t hold existing traffic; (3) people were already waiting 20 minutes to get out of their driveways; and (4) the police were already stretched thin by traffic control.

• On a side note: there was some debate about how the interior streets would be handled — Gulbronson said General’s Green was one of three projects pending where applicants were considering private roads.

According to Steen, homeowners’ association bylaws or deed covenants governed the care of private streets — in theory. However, in her experience, she said it rarely worked out that way.

More typically, property owners never read the fine print, Steen explained. Most figured, since they were paying town taxes, the streets must be the town’s responsibility. And forcing a community to take care of its private streets was easier said than done, she said.

• Applicants for the Woodlands of Pepper’s Creek opened their presentation, but had to repeat themselves, as it had become impossible to speak over the grumbling crowd. They started over — the proposal was for 48 condo units on 9.2 acres, just south of Pepper’s Creek.

They proposed private streets, and of a narrow variety, ostensibly to avoid huge, 80-year-old “specimen trees.”

Issues with public versus private, narrow road width, narrow rights of way and narrow “frontyard setbacks” (although, technically, there are no lot lines in a condominium association) and absence of sidewalks led council to table the application (unanimously, on Hall’s motion).

• The Cummings and Clark application, for a 16,000-square-foot retail commercial building and a 20,000-square-foot commercial office building, next to Mediacom, moved one step closer to approval — council scheduled the project for public hearing in August.

• Council members also approved the 2006 fiscal budget (no tax increases, at present), moved forward with plans to join Miss Utility, discussed the water interconnection with Frankford and various punchlist items associated with finishing out that new infrastructure.

One resident recommended the town clarify that there would be no ($3,000) impact fee — zero dollars — for property owners who hook up to the central water system within the first year. That year began on May 9, so the clock is ticking.

Chandler also recommended a process by which the town could give residents more input on applications for liquor licenses around town. As it stands, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) requires a certificate of compliance (do they have a business license, do they meet zoning codes, etc.), but only the immediate neighbors are given notice.