The Millville Town Council met on Wednesday, June 16, and held a public hearing and vote on the possible rezoning of four applicants’ properties from C-1, commercial, to C-2, large-scale commercial, zoning.
Attorney Vincent Robertson of Griffin & Hackett P.A. was present as legal council to three of the four applicants: Atlantic Auction Inc., G.B. Millville Properties LLC and Millville Councilman Gerald Hocker Jr., who recused himself from the hearing and vote.
Giving a 20-minute presentation to council, Robertson laid out his case as to why his clients, the Hocker family, who sought to rezone 6 acres of land with dual frontage of 550 feet; Joe Goldstein, with 15 acres; and Robert Kaufman, with 20 acres, should be granted C-2 zoning.
Robertson suggested that the updated Millville comprehensive plan resulted in the direct down-zoning of properties under the current C-1 zoning.
“The down-zoning is evident, with the town returning the Giant and Food Lion properties to C-2 – preferential treatment that wasn’t available to my clients, even though property characteristics between Giant and Food Lion and the three properties that I represent are almost identical. In fact, the Hocker family actually has a greater footage on two roadways than either the Giant or Food Lion,” he said.
“The town has taken away many of the rights and permitted uses that were previously available for the development of their property,” Robertson asserted.
He argued that the sizes of the properties are more conducive to large-scale commercial development and the town should be wary of “Swiss-cheese zoning” and creating sprawl.
Robertson also quoted directly from the town’s comprehensive plan, which he interpreted as placing the commercial hub of the town on Route 26.
“‘Atlantic Avenue, Route 26, which runs directly through the town of Millville is the major east/west route that runs through Sussex County, providing access from western Sussex County and points west to Bethany Beach and other Atlantic Coast resorts,’” read Robertson. “Just based on that language, Route 26 is the location where large-scale growth should naturally occur. In contrast, the town seems to be directing C-2 zoning to Route 17.”
He noted that DelDOT owns Route 26, and the comprehensive plan has “lofty goals to improve 26,” yet neither the town nor DelDOT have the funding to accomplish those goals, he said.
“DelDOT, whenever they give an entrance permit, they require contributions from the developers to contribute to the roadway entrance improvement associated with the development of the property,” stated Robertson.
Millville resident Joan Bennett spoke to council, saying that the Giant and Food Lion were pre-existing large-scale commercial developments and that, “the Food Lion has been there since forever.”
She also called into question whether or not DelDOT does actually require contributions from developers.
“I can’t think of – and I wish, perhaps, for others to put their thinking caps on – I can’t think of any place on 26 where DelDOT has asked developers to contribute for improvements,” said Bennett.
Local businessman and state Rep. Gerald Hocker, father of Councilman Gerry Hocker, spoke in rebuttal to Bennett’s comments.
“I built a supermarket in 1987. I had to give up 12.5 feet. I had to put in a decel lane and curbing. We outgrew that store. In 1998, I applied for another entrance permit with DelDOT, thinking I didn’t have to go through it again,” he explained. “They came back and said, ‘We want you to change the design of 26. You’re creating more traffic.’ I had to give them another 15 feet, tearing up the curbing. It was over 25 feet of commercial property that I had to give to DelDOT that I never got a penny for it, plus they got all the road.”
Continued Hocker, “I know what it is, and I know what DelDOT requests. As a state representative, I wish I could tell Mrs. Bennett how many phone calls I get from developers and business people saying, ‘You know what DelDOT is making me do?’ DelDOT sticks to it, and they require it. I’d just hate to see Millville to downzone property that we paid good money for.”
Applicant Robert Kaufman of Atlantic Auction suggested that, though the town might want Route 17 as a commercial district, Route 26 has been and will stay the main commercial area.
““Myself, the Hocker family, grew up here all of our lives,” said Kaufman. “Small-town Millville and Ocean View disappeared probably 40 to 50 years ago. That’s just the way life is,” he said. “This corridor has been going commercial for many, many years, and to say that Route 17 is now going to be the heavy commercial… I don’t think anybody in this room will see Route 17 as the commercial corridor in our lifetimes. Folks are struggling enough on Route 26.”
“I live here 24/7,” said resident Maggie King, who spoke out against rezoning the properties, “and to have a gas station or an apartment… We don’t even have a police department yet. I just think to rezone it and not know what’s going to go there is just not a good idea.”
Council voted 3-1 against approving the four applications for rezoning.
“They should be allowed to have the zoning, since they’ve met the requirements by our code,” said Councilman Richard Thomas, who was the only member on council to vote in favor of all four properties receiving C-2 designations.
“Four members of this council sat on here and accepted the comprehensive plan, 5-0, without any objections in public hearings or written comments,” said Mayor Don Minyon, who voted against the rezoning. “So, obviously, people weren’t interested when we were writing that comprehensive plan. So a unanimous vote sort of sways me.”
“We’ve devoted our whole lives to get these properties out here on this road,” said Kaufman. “To say they can’t be used to the highest and best use… I don’t understand.”
Robertson and the applicants had no comment as to whether or not they would take legal action as a result of the denial.