County approves first project in rental program

The Sussex County Council on July 21 approved 4-1 the first project being developed under its Moderately Priced Rental Program, at 36-month pilot program approved in December 2008 that aims to stimulate affordable rental housing for the county’s working citizens.

William Lecates, director of Community Development and Housing for the county, brought forward the application of the Arbors of Cottage Dale, a 32-unit development in the Lewes area, for council approval.

Under the MPRP, in a development of that size – 25 to 64 units – 40 percent of the units must go toward the MPRP (in this case, 25 units), while developments with more than 64 units must contribute 60 percent of those units to the program.

The property involved in a MPRP project must be located in a town center, designated developing area, the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area or an area designated as being a future area of interest for a neighboring town.

In exchange for participating, developments that are approved for the program receive a bonus density of 20 percent, plus expedited review before the county.

Renters looking to lease homes in the program must live and work in Sussex County for at least one year before applying, though employers may request waivers from that requirement for individual employees. The renters must maintain the unit as a primary residence. And, perhaps most importantly, the unit must be maintained as affordable rental housing for 30 years, with all tenants qualifying under the program for that period.

Those who make 30 to 80 percent of the area’s median income are eligible under the program’s income guidelines.

The Arbors of Cottage Dale is the first project that has applied to the MPRP. It consists of 18 acres south of Plantation Road, behind the Home Depot in Lewes.

“We’re testing the waters with this application,” Lecates said. “With the market, it seems surprising that (even) this one has come forward.”

Lecates noted that not many projects come through the county’s approval processes that are built entirely to rent.

“I see rental market being needed, with the foreclosures, as much as anything right now, because of the number leaving their homes and having to find somewhere to live,” he said.

Notably, the property is a brownfields site – a former industrial or commercial site that is considered contaminated or perceived to be contaminated. As such, the site is subject to remediation oversight by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

Councilwoman Joan Deaver (D-3rd) asked County Engineer Mike Izzo if this project would be the first in the county where county sewer lines would be going into a brownfields site for residential use. He confirmed that it would be.

Deaver said the brownfields designation for a planned residential development concerned her. She cast the lone vote against approving the project for entry into the MPRP.

Also on July 21, Deaver noted her objections to the scheduling of an executive session scheduled for the end of that afternoon’s meeting.

“I think we’ve had an executive session every meeting since I joined the council, and I’m getting some complaints from my constituents,” she said, referencing the sessions and the details of their agenda being closed to the public.

“We’re acquiring a lot of land and dealing with a lot of litigation,” explained Council President Vance Phillips (R-5th), “and we have been dealing with some personnel issues.”

Phillips noted that the council’s executive sessions are scheduled by the county administrator, David Baker. “And I have full faith and confidence in Mr. Baker’s judgment. But your concern is noted,” he told Deaver.

The council did cancel its executive session planned for the end of its July 28 meeting. Baker cited a lack of litigation-related and other items in informing the council of the cancelation.

Also on July 21:

• The council unanimously approved wastewater agreements for Byewood Manor in Millville and Phase 3 of Fairway Village in Ocean View.

• The council also approved a request from Frankford police to release the remaining portion of their municipal police grant for the 2009 fiscal year – $16,000, which will go to operational costs, phone and Internet equipment, and vehicle costs.

• Council members approved a bid award for the latest phase of the Johnsons Corner Sanitary Sewer District project to Bunting & Murray Construction of Selbyville, which was the winning bidder on the prior phase of the project.

The council approved awarding of the bid under an alternate bid package, to accommodate Hampton Park – a previously unpaved development that is working to be eligible for sewer service.

Izzo said he had met with the prior Friday with residents of the sewer district regarding their concerns about the district’s cost. He said bids on the project were coming in low. “I’m feeling strongly that it will come in lower than the referendum amount,” he said, also noting federal Recovery Act funding that will reduce the costs to the property owners in the district.

“It’s too early to tell how much lower than the referendum,” said Finance Director Susan Webb.

He said the county would also give the property owners some options on the planned pump station to address concerns about its location, though he said that would add extra costs and it would be their responsibility to pay those costs.

The council voted unanimously to award the contract to Bunting & Murray, contingent on expected state and federal funding.