Selbyville leaves tax rate unchanged

Selbyville Town Council members voted on Monday to keep the town’s property tax rate unchanged again in the 2009 fiscal year, at $1.85 per $100 of assessed value. The rate has remained at that level for more than 15 years.

Mayor Clifton Murray said the figure fit into the town’s preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year, despite the ongoing regional slowdown in the real estate market noted at another point in the meeting. “The town is in fine financial shape,” he said, to a consensus from all five members of the council. They voted unanimously to keep the tax rate as it stands.

Development in the town is continuing, despite the woes of the real estate market. Council members approved a preliminary site plan for a 119-lot residential development on the former Warrington property on a unanimous vote Monday, after changes were made to the plan to comply with density limits.

Councilman Jay Murray also updated the council on the planned Lighthouse Crossing development on Route 54, where that 65-acre property has now been purchased by the developer and work is proceeding. An older home already on the property is in the process of being converted to a sales center for the 129-lot residential community, which is to feature homes in the $300,000 price range and geothermal heating.

Jay Murray said all the permits for the development were now in place, some three to four years into the process. “They’re hoping to break ground this month,” he noted, adding that the plans were essentially unchanged from those previously approved.

The councilman also told council members that they could expect to soon see a preliminary plan for property owned by Bruce and Sandra Bennett on Route 54. The council had voted unanimously earlier in Monday’s meeting to hold a March 10 public hearing on a rezoning request for the property from R-3 to R-4. That development plan had also been downsized to meet density requirements — by two lots in this case.

An annexation request is also pending for property owned by Coleman Bunting Jr. on Route 54, which the council forwarded to the town’s annexation committee for its next meeting.

Jay Murray also told the council that development plans were under way for a Main Street property next to the existing NAPA auto-parts store, for which the owner had presented preliminary site plans to the planning and zoning commission recently. Plans are to create a commercial rental use there, he said, but a specific type of business had not been determined.

County requests 911 re-addressing along 113

Council members did not vote Feb. 4 on a request from Sussex County emergency officials to re-address properties inside town limits that front on U.S. Route 113/DuPont Highway.

Town Administrator Gary Taylor said county officials had asked for the change based on potential confusion from emergency responders who now have to deal with both the town’s older standard addresses and the new five-digit 911 addressing standards adopted in unincorporated areas of the county.

Those five-digit addresses run along Route 113 to Cemetery Avenue at the town’s northern end, where some properties have already been annexed into the town with the county’s 911 addresses. From Cemetery Avenue south to the Maryland border, Selbyville’s old-style addressing system has been kept in place — at least until now.

Taylor noted that most or all of the towns with properties along Route 113 had already agreed and/or converted to the five-digit system, suggesting the decision should be simple. However, he cautioned council members to give consideration to the change’s impacts before they make a decision.

While the work for town officials to change records relating to those properties would be minimal, Taylor said he was concerned about the costs the switch would create for Selbyville businesses at the affected addresses, with changes needing to be made to stationary, checking accounts and advertising.

“It could be costly to some of our businesses,” Taylor said.

Zoning changes adopted

The Selbyville council adopted a series of zoning amendments on Monday, first correcting an unplanned impact from previous changes to the R-1, R-2, MR (multifamily), DR (duplex) and HR (historic residential districts) that had been intended to enlarge setbacks on newly developed properties in those zones.

But the changes had also been shown in the last year to impact properties that had existed at the time it was made, increasing setbacks in rear yards from 10 feet to 30 feet, and in turn making some properties nearly undevelopable. The amendment adopted unanimously by the council on Feb. 4 changes the setbacks back to 10 feet on the properties that were not intended to be affected by the 30-foot setback rule.

The council also unanimously adopted amendments to the zoning code that changed the zoning from R-3 to R-4 for two properties, one located on County Road 386 near Route 54 and the other on Route 54 near County Road 387A. Both properties had been given permission for different lot sizes under previous discussion, and council members said the zoning changes would follow through with those permitted lot size changes.

Finally, the council wrapped up zoning changes with unanimous adoption of an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance to allow some commercial uses of property in the R-4 zone with a conditional use that would be granted by the council.

Councilmen have been discussing the issue for more than six months, since it was originally proposed as a “neighborhood business” zoning that could be flatly applied to given parcels. The council reconsidered that idea on advice of the town solicitor, who instead suggested R-4 zoning be considered but “neighborhood business” uses allowed via conditional use, to give the town more control over what uses are permitted, as well as where and under what conditions.

“These would be neighborhood commercial-type uses,” Jay Murray explained, “not heavy commercial uses. Areas of the town are growing and there have been requests for neighborhood business-type stores.”

Those would include small retail shops, medical and professional offices, restaurants and other businesses not likely to generate heavy traffic, Jay Murray emphasized. “Not big-box stores.” He noted that growth in such residential areas was not only continuing but had itself suggested a need for nearby businesses that could serve those new residents without creating problems for neighbors.

“I think there is a need for it, and there will be a need for it,” Jay Murray added.

The council favored the change in the plan from a new zone to conditional use requirements, which Jay Murray said would allow the council to approve conditional uses when it found the projects would be in the best interests of the town and to deny them when they found such projects would not be a positive force.

“It leaves discretion to the council,” Mayor Clifton Murray said.

“We did consider buffering between commercial and residential uses,” Councilman Richard Duncan noted of the council’s rules and decision-making power under the amendment.

Water, sewer and derelict home pose problems

Also on Feb. 4:

• Council members expressed dismay at the cancelation of plans for a controlled burn on a derelict home at the intersection of Route 54 and Polly Branch Road.

Selbyville Volunteer Fire Company Chief Robert Eckman said the property owner had withdrawn her application for the burn – which the company had planned to use for training purposes – because she didn’t want to put any more money into the property and instead planned on selling it with the home still on it. The controlled burn requires the property owner to pay a $100 fee for an environmental assessment.

Council members immediately suggested that a collection could be taken up that night that would pay the fee, just to remove an eyesore and potential hazard many at the meeting said they would like gone.

Eckman said the company was also considering a new policy that would allow it to pay the fee, since the company has a severe shortage of training sites and had been hoping to train with a controlled burn there. He said he would continue discussions with the property owner about whether the burn could be done if someone else paid the fee.

• Mayor Clifton Murray presented to Lucille Creel of the Selbyville Community Club a proclamation declaring March as Art Month for Selbyville Youth. The town has continued to support the club’s annual youth art show each March, with the mayor judging and presenting awards for area children who participate. The town also presented Creel with a $100 grant for the project.

• Police Chief W. Scott Collins reported that the suspects in recent thefts of scrap metal from residences and construction sites in and around the town had been arrested. He said the suspects, who were local residents themselves, had even hit his own property during the crime spree.

“With the price of metal now, if you have metal out, it’s gone,” he said, noting that thefts of copper from construction sites had been particularly tempting for the profit that could be made.

Juvenile crime was the town’s biggest police problem in 2007, Collins said in presenting a preliminary report on the department’s prior year of work. Vandalism and petty thefts were top among those juvenile crimes.

“Unfortunately, people are still not locking their cars,” Collins added with a tone of warning.

Collins on Monday also thanked Phil Owen of Mountaire for assistance in collecting donations for holiday care packages for a Marine Corps aviation unit serving in Iraq. Every member of the unit had received a package, Collins said.

• Duncan reported Monday on concerns about one of the town’s two wells, saying that he had contacted consultants to see what the unusual sound coming from the well might suggest. In the meantime, he said, he had asked Taylor to begin the paperwork applying for a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant that might help the town pay for a new well, if a dire need can be proven. Duncan said he would like the town to have three wells, with the currently malfunctioning well serving only as backup from that point forward.

He also noted plans for townwide hydrant flushing between March 17 and 21, at which time residents can expect some discolored water. Testing of the water system is then expected to take place.

• The town’s sewer system is also experiencing problems, according to a report from Councilman G. Frank Smith III on Feb. 4.

Failure of a blower that aerates the system had led to the growth of “low DO filamentous bacteria,” which normally occurs where there are low levels of dissolved oxygen (DO). The bacteria have prevented particulates in the system from settling as normal, leading the town to divert its wastewater flow since Jan. 21 from ocean outfall to internal treatment lagoons. Hopes were to return to ocean outfall by this weekend, but no impact on area groundwater was anticipated due to the diversion.

Preliminary steps to treat the problem have been taken, but Town Engineer Chuck Hauser of Davis, Bowen and Friedel said the town would have to pursue remedies with the bond company representing contractor on the March 2007 sewer treatment construction work and the manufacturer of the blower if better cooperation on fixing or replacing the broken component is not seen. The problem with the blower has been ongoing since November, he said.

Attempts to reduce power use at the sewer plant may have contributed to the problem, since a higher level of power is generally recommended when only one blower unit is functioning.

• Hauser also noted on Monday that work on sewer and water expansion on the Route 54 and Route 17 corridors had been going particularly slowly of late, largely due to a 6-inch contractor error on jack-and-bore placement of a gravity main. Council members also expressed continued concern about traffic flagging practices by the contractor, saying they feared the impact of the work once spring traffic increases begin to be seen.

• Council members unanimously approved the town’s annual mosquito spraying plan, as well as a $100 grant to the Indian River Little League Baseball Boosters. Also approved unanimously was the requested $6,000 budget for the Old Timer’s Day Committee leading up to this year’s event. Taylor noted that the committee had only spent $2,400 of the $5,000 allocated in 2007, because they hadn’t advertised as heavily as they had wanted to or produced a commemorative T-shirt for sale. Planning to pursue those projects this year, they requested the extra $1,000 as well.

• Taylor told the Coastal Point that town elections for 2008 were still up in the air as of Monday. No candidates other than incumbents have applied to run in the March elections. The deadline to file for the elections is Feb. 7, after the Coastal Point’s deadline this week. (Look for next week’s issue to see whether the town will have any elections this year.)

Despite the potential lack of elections, the council has rescheduled its March meeting for March 10, to meet state election guidelines should an election be held.