County denies bridge over wetlands

The County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission unanimously recommended denial of the Riverview application — a 1,400-foot wooden bridge to a proposed 72-unit residential planned community (RPC) — at the May 12 P&Z meeting.

That recommendation now in the record, Riverview should reappear on the Sussex County Council agenda in coming weeks, and council members will cast their own votes at that time.

The proposed project would sit on an 80-acre parcel of land near the Tuckahoe Acres campground (Holt’s Landing area), north of Millville.

The P&Z held public hearing on the application back in March, and local Commission Member Rodney Smith said he’d put a lot of thought into it since then.

He said he’d visited and revisited the site, and conferred with wetlands scientists. “And, I’ve visited some of the wetlands mitigation sites, which Ed Launay (environmental consultant for the project) has pointed out as a source of pride,” Smith noted.

However, setting aside that issue, he said the alternate emergency evacuation route (across neighbor Barbara Murray’s land, if the bridge was blocked, for instance) was “clearly trespass,” as long as Murray remains opposed to granting an easement.

But even if it wasn’t trespass, he said new ditches or seasonal high water could easily negate that option.

Smith said he was concerned for residents’ safety, but also for emergency responders, in the event they should cross the bridge and become trapped at the new development.

Responders to a recent fire near Millsboro (Phillips Hill) found their escape route temporarily blocked, he pointed out — if reeds and marsh grasses around the wooden bridge blazed up, the same situation might occur at Riverview.

“These guys don’t cut and run — a fire could see them isolated out there,” Smith concluded.

Also, because the timber bridge would need to be treated periodically, and bolts tightened once a year, he anticipated a continuing impact on the wetlands, long after construction.

The applicants had pointed to a similar wooden bridge at the nearby Ellis Point, but that one is much shorter. Smith said it was like comparing T-ball to the World Series.

In addition, according to P&Z Chair John Allen, the development hadn’t met the purpose of the RPC (provide a superior living environment while promoting design ingenuity).

By his estimation, it had been designed to fit in as many homes as possible. He also cited state recommendations for directing growth to areas where infrastructure already exists — Riverview is outside county sewer districts, and the road is relatively unimproved.

In other local business, the P&Z forwarded a recommendation for denial on Ed Chiasson’s application for a change of zone from agricultural-residential (AR-1) to commercial (C-1) at his acre-or-so near the Bayside Sales Center (Route 54).

Chiasson is a local artisan, known for his scale model lighthouses. He said he’d been thinking of selling his land over the past year, but had a change of heart and decided he’d rather just stay put.

He said he would like to “open up a summer business, make some beer money,” and the change of zone would be appropriate because there were other commercial activities in the area (the sales office, and a service station immediately to the west). However, Allen questioned whether Chiasson was asking for rezoning merely to increase the value of his property.

Not so locally, but a potentially huge project for Sussex County, the Isaacs Glen application also came before the P&Z on May 12.

Attorney James Fuqua, representing the Reynolds Pond partnership, said the application was basically for an RPC overlay on AR-1 lands. Although it had been advertised as a change of zone to medium density RPC, density would be less than permitted on AR lands, he said (1.9 units per acre on average, but smaller lots clustered here and there).

However, it’s still huge — 1,592 residential units, plus a golf course, nearly 160,000 square feet of retail, more than 71,000 square feet of office space, a library, a village hall, swimming pools, a softball field, a basketball court, and so on.

The project rests on 836 acres between Milton and Milford.

According to Fuqua, the state didn’t like the plan because it didn’t direct growth to an area where there was already infrastructure in place. However, he said that wouldn’t be a problem here, because the developers weren’t asking for state assistance with infrastructure, and didn’t need any. They would build their own.

He stated a case for home rule, saying the ultimate decision should rest with Sussex County.

There were also concerns regarding the ability of homeowners’ association governance to manage such a large community. However, Fuqua pointed to Sea Colony near Bethany Beach — 2,200 residents, he said, and very respectable.

More than 300 of the Isaacs Glen residential units would be for assisted living — small, akin to hotel rooms. Even so, the development’s population could approach 4,000 people, larger than many towns in Sussex County. The P&Z deferred action on that application.