County considers change at Lynn Lee


Concerned manufactured home park residents attended the June 9 county Planning and Zoning (P&Z) commission, to learn more of the plan that would utterly transform the Lynn Lee Village, north of Ocean View.

It was an emotionally charged meeting, as 40-or-so opposing residents, many of them tenants of Lynn Lee Village, packed council chambers. The commission would eventually defer action, pending further consideration of the testimony.

Lynn Lee Village comprises three fingers of land amid canals and docks, along the natural beauty of White’s Creek as it widens into the Indian River Bay. The community is less than two miles from the bay, less than five miles from the Indian River Inlet by boat, and less than four miles from Bethany Beach by car.

In addition, the county just ran sewer to the site (with a lateral available for each of the 87 lots), repaving the roads in the process, and there’s central water infrastructure on the near horizon, according to the developers.

In other words, Lynn Lee is prime real estate. That’s good news for the owners — but not such good news for long-time seasonal renters, and potentially even worse news for the year-round tenants of the park.

Canal Place LLP is under contract to buy the park, and attorney James Fuqua and designer Rich Polk presented the developers plans for the future on June 9, as part of the application for conditional use of land in a General Residential (GR) district, for multi-family dwelling structures.

Actually, they’re proposing single-family, detached condominiums — as P&Z Director Lawrence Lank pointed out, the developers would build over 165-foot-max footprints, separated by 40 feet of open space, then another 165-foot “block,” and so on.

The buildings would be quite close to one another within that 165-foot block, but they are designed to be tall (three stories) and narrow.

Canal Place plans to build community dock access through the 40-foot open space sections, including handicapped access, and refurbish the boat ramp and dock facilities.

As proposed, each condominium would have a set of back steps leading down to the docks, which would run continuously the entire length of the canal.

Polk noted wider cul-de-sacs at the end of each street, to accommodate turning fire equipment per Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) regulations, a new stormwater management system (none currently exists), curb and gutter, sidewalks, crosswalks and landscaping.

There would be almost an acre of parkland, total, at the three points, benches and gazebos, plus another acre in additional “pocket parks” scattered around the development, Polk said.

“The overall value of the property will be significantly increased,” Fuqua noted — Polk estimated an $800,000 price tag for the 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot condo units.

Lynn Lee predates zoning, and is non-conforming — the lots are laid out on diagonals, relative to the streets, which is something the county would rather not see. The condos would square up to the streets.

GR zoning allows minimum lot sizes of 10,000 square feet (a little more than four units per acre). The privately owned canals take up 2 acres, so density on the buildable portion of the “parcel” is actually close to seven units per acre (including the canals, the parcel comprises 14.6 acres).

However, Fuqua noted other projects in the immediate vicinity with similar densities. Excluding wetlands, the multi-family section of Bayside at Bethany Lakes, adjacent the park’s northern border, comes in at 6.4 units per acre, he said.

\The county included manufactured home parks on the GR special exceptions list (available through conditional use) — and also multi-family. That’s the relevant section for the Canal Place developers, and the argument that this would be redevelopment to a use that would have no more impact than the existing Lynn Lee Village.

As Fuqua noted, the county had run 87 sewer laterals to 87 lots, which tended to indicate sufficient sewer capacity for the proposed density.

According to Polk, the proposed stormwater management would enable the new development to “satisfy, or probably exceed, the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs),” he said. (This refers to DNREC’s efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Inland Bays.)

He estimated increased traffic associated with the move from manufactured homes to single-family condos at an additional 90 to 95 trips per day (40-odd each way).

That wasn’t enough of an increase to warrant a request for Traffic Impact Study (TIS), Fuqua reported. (DelDOT officials did note a likely decline from “C” to “D” level of service on Cedar Neck Road, but due to general trends in the area, he added.)

Linda Hanna, one of the Lynn Lee residents in attendance, suggested those estimates were way off the mark.

She acted as spokesperson for many of the residents in attendance, and posed several questions related to zoning. However, Hanna’s testimony in the main revolved around the fact that dozens of residents, including her own family and friends, are being evicted from their waterfront haven.

Their case went before Chancery Court in 2003, and Vice-Chancellor Stephen Lamb’s decision was for the present owners of record, Key Box 5 Limited Partnership. Legally, Key Box 5 had the right to terminate their leases, with 180 days’ notice (amendments to state law passed soon after modified that somewhat), Lamb ruled.

However, he did add that the tenants should receive some consideration, in recognition of the somewhat unique situation at Lynn Lee Village.

From Lamb’s Memorandum Opinion (Nov. 17, 2003), “when valuing the leasehold interests at issue in this case, the court will strive to compensate the tenants for the loss of the right to the use and enjoyment of the property as a mobile home park for the balance of the term of the 99-year leases.”

In essence, the tenants fronted the money, roughly $30,000 apiece, to broker the park’s hand-over from the previous owners, Lynn Lee Limited Partnership, or LLLP, to Key Box 5.

The original principals purchased the park from LLLP in 1988. They set up financing for most of the tenants, and collected $2.2 million to pay off LLLP’s mortgage (and nearly all of the closing costs).

How much Key Box 5 will need to compensate the leaseholders remains to be seen (Master in Chancery Sam Glasscock’s ruling pending), but Lamb suggested it should be more than just the pro-rated dollar value.

As far as the owners’ right to evict the tenants as part of the sale of the property to developers, Lamb’s ruling went unchallenged.

As of June 9, however, Hanna continued to argue that the case remained unsettled — over Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson’s suggestion that that was true only of the compensation.

“This will place the Delaware manufactured housing industry in jeopardy,” Hanna insisted. “This means that a signed lease, for a manufactured homeowner, means nothing.

“There are a lot of manufactured home owners here tonight who know, if we’re not protected, no one’s protected,” she said. “If you’re going to give them this land use change before we’ve even finally settled and resolved our issues, that’s going to be a problem for a lot more people who are living on rented land.”

At that point, one of the residents commented, “that guy doesn’t care,” apparently targeted toward Robertson. As P&Z Chair John Allen reminded, the commission would not tolerate random comments from the audience. (All are welcomed to speak, but they must first approach the podium and state their names and addresses.)

Robertson tried to explain the situation.

“I think your concerns are appropriately focused at the Mobile Home Lots and Leases Act,” he said. “That’s a separate statute, and not a land use statute.” He reminded Hanna once again that the lease dispute was entirely outside the P&Z’s jurisdiction.

“I think if you’re concerned about the effects of the Mobile Homes Lots and Leases Act, and what it can do to a person who has a long term lease, the appropriate course of action is through the state legislature on that,” Robertson stated.

“But how can you change the land use before we’re finished deciding whether we are still a mobile home park or not,” Hanna asked. “I think that’s just going to make things more difficult for everyone down the road,” Hanna said.

“How can they change the land use right out from underneath us,” she asked.

William Reed, vice-president of the Delaware Manufactured Homeowners’ Association, chair of the Governor’s Council on Manufactured Housing and recent appointee to the Relocation Authority board, spoke next.

He likened manufactured home communities to endangered species. He revisited Lamb’s decision, and alleged Key Box 5 hadn’t complied with statutory requirements.

“I think it’s a little backwards — if they hadn’t complied with the Delaware code on the intended change of land use, how can you (the P&Z) approve a change of land use,” he asked.

Commission Member Robert Wheatley jumped in. He defended prior comments that the matter had been settled in the courts, for better or worse. “Until somebody says that we can’t make a decision, we have to make a decision,” he said. “That’s what we do.”

“If I was the developer,” Reed rejoined, “I would want this all settled out before I sent the construction trucks and started doing all of this — that’s a lot of effort, and could all go for naught.”

“I think the developer feels that is has been decided,” Allen stated. “Reports all indicate that it has been decided. I feel sorry for all of you people, but there is not one thing this board can do to help you.”

More information on what guarantees manufactured home park residents do and do not enjoy is available on the internet, at www.de.gov, then follow the Delaware Code Online link (in the Favorites box) to Title 25, especially Chapters 70 and 71.

At the end of the meeting, Commission Member Rodney Smith suggested they all revisit the site one more time as part of the deliberation process.

County Planner Richard Kautz raised a question regarding existing nonconforming uses, and the extent to which they should be returned to conformity when there were changes in use.

Lank noted the 87 sewer connections, but Commission Member Michael Johnson expressed concern regarding the likelihood of similar changes in the future, and whether they would all be one-to-one.

In other business, P&Z deferred on the Dagsboro Trace subdivision, 27 lots on 21.7 acres, across from the Gulls Way Campground, on Route 26.