After more than six months of work to overhaul their existing zoning and subdivision ordinances in light of planned growth, Millville Town Council members on July 10 adopted both new ordinances on unanimous, 5-0, votes.
Town Planner Kyle Gulbronson of URS had emphasized during the update process that the intention was to update and organize the zoning and subdivision codes; bring ordinances into line with current development trends and patterns; better define the development process in the town; add additional review and development requirements; and improve the format and flow of the ordinance documents to be more user-friendly.
Indeed, many of the changes Gulbronson described were more in the manner of “housekeeping” measures. Existing handwritten notes, for example, have been formally incorporated. Other issues, while overlooked in the past, are increasingly important for the town.
Among those is the town’s residential zoning, consisting of both traditional residential lots and the residential planned communities (RPCs) and master-planned communities (MPCs) that have increasingly come before the town in recent years.
The new ordinances set out what Mayor Donald Minyon described as “stricter controls” on that booming residential development. That includes requirements for mixed housing styles in subdivisions — at least 40 percent single-family homes — after a wave of townhome-only subdivisions has been presented to the town, as well as buffer and parking requirements.
Also affected are the town’s commercial zones, which now have more clear allowances and prohibitions for the types of businesses that can operate in them. The revisions to commercial zoning codes were made in the full light of concern over the addition of a Home Depot store next to planned residential neighborhoods off Route 17, and of the already operating retail space at the Millville Town Center.
Along with the zoning concerns, the Home Depot issue led to a detailing of the town’s annexation procedures, resulting in a checklist format that the town has already been using for several months now, as well as changes in its fee structure.
The new ordinances also address changes in building standards and outline the goals the town will use to review applications for subdivisions, as well as penalties developers will pay if they don’t live up to those approved plans and other town standards.
Minyon praised the work of Councilwoman Joan Bennett, who helped push the ordinance update project along during her time as deputy mayor of the town.
Remaining to be added to the new ordinances was one last-minute amendment to parking requirements for residential developments. Council members, concerned over a perceived lack of parking at some existing RPCs, opted to increase the two-spaces-per-unit requirement by a half-space per unit — with that extra space dedicated for “overflow” or visitor parking.
The council members further plan to endorse the preservation of that parking area as permeable surface, to avoid increased parking requirements having a deleterious effect on stormwater runoff, pollution and other environmental issues.
Surface systems such as interlocking pavers would be recommended by the town for as much parking area as possible, so that rainwater can continue to flow as naturally as possible into the water table.
Council members planned to take up the amendment at their August meeting. A revised zoning map, which was not ready for adoption in July, could also potentially be ready then.
Construction hours expanded
The council on July 10 also made an amendment to another recently passed ordinance, which restricts the hours of construction permitted in the town.
The original ordinance permitted construction during the hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, during the winter (Sept. 1 through May 15); and in the summer (May 16 through Aug. 31), hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, were permitted, with no Saturday construction allowed.
But Councilwoman Kami Banks cast the sole vote against the adoption of that ordinance two meetings ago, on the grounds that it would, she said, unfairly limit local builders to hours much stricter than those permitted property owners working on their own properties and would also make it difficult for them to reclaim work time adversely affected by poor weather.
She said she had since reviewed other local towns’ construction ordinances and found them to be less restrictive than Millville’s new one.
Banks recommended the council expand the construction hours, extending the time period one hour on winter weekdays, running from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on winter Saturdays a full three hours, running from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Significantly expanded are summer construction hours, with an extra 90 minutes on weekdays, from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and the previously prohibited Saturday construction restored to being permitted between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Construction is not permitted on Sundays or holidays.)
Bennett, who had championed the original ordinance as a measure to retain “peaceful enjoyment of their properties” for year-round, summer and weekend residents, strongly objected to the reconsideration of the hours, calling the shift “a problem,” but she did not find much support for keeping the original restrictions.
“Construction is less of a problem than music being played at night,” Minyon opined, causing Bennett to note that the council had also passed a noise ordinance in recent months that could help control that problem as well.
But Vice-Mayor Gerry Hocker also showed some agreement with the new proposal, citing his belief as a potential neighbor to such construction that longer hours would mean the job was done sooner, making it better both for the property owner and their neighbors.
Councilman Richard Thomas, who has a personal history in the construction trades, said he also felt the change was good. “Saturday hours are very important. They let you finish things up if it rains on Friday.” And most construction outfits prefer to start at 7 a.m. during the week, he noted.
Thus council netted a consensus to alter the previous ordinance, with a 4-1 vote, Bennett opposed. Collins noted that since the passage of the original ordinance, the town had already been called on at least three or four complaints related to construction hours.
Council adopts new fees, approves truck purchase
Council members were unanimous in their support of new “fit-up” and occupancy permit fees. The new fees are designed not only to bring in new general-fund revenue for the town but also to ensure that there is money to pay for oversight of retail businesses when they customize leased spaces.
The fit-up fees call for 50 cents per square foot to be assessed when new occupants move into a “shell” space and alter it to suit their needs, as well as when interior renovations are made for tenant businesses. A $250 occupancy permit fee was also established.
The council also gave a 5-0 vote on Tuesday to the town applying for grand funding that could bring in $10,000 to help them pay for engineering costs associated with the coming comprehensive plan update. Town Manager Linda Collins noted that the quick approval of the application by the council was needed so that the town could ask for a grant before the state supply of grant funds dried up.
Tabled on July 10 was the final adoption of a town hall meeting room use policy, which had previously been put on hold while liability issues were resolved. That done, the policy still needs one vital bit of information: the official capacity of the room, which is currently being determined by the state fire marshal. Thomas said that number was expected back within a week or two.
The council on Tuesday also formalized, 5-0, their approval of the purchase of a pickup truck for use by the code enforcement officer and other town staff. Already a grant from the USDA has been lined up to pay all but $7,000 of the cost, but Thomas said he had been unable to find a more formal approval of the purchase in the official record than the approval of applying for the grant, thus the latest vote.
Looking at the bottom line of their budget and recommendations from town auditors, council members also agreed July 10 to postpone the payment of their own compensation, which runs at $50 per month. The last payment had been made to them through December of 2006, Collins said, but auditors were recommending a shift to a fiscal-year-based schedule, ending at the end of April.
With the honorarium due for the period ending in April of 2007, Minyon said he had asked Collins to see if the council members were willing to wait for their payment until May of 2008, when they would be paid for 18 months of service, thus keeping the town’s cash flow a little healthier.
The council members said they had no objection to that idea, with Bennett noting that she continues to refuse any payment for her work on the council.
Town staff busy with Web site, training
In her administrative report, Collins noted a recent training session by state election officials, in observation of new municipal election laws. She said the town staff had found they were already basically in compliance with the new procedures, as demonstrated in the referendum held on a de-annexation issue in March.
Collins also reported that some 57.6 percent of the town’s property taxes had already been collected, as well as 75 percent of its annual business license fees. A letter is due to go out to delinquent taxpayers as soon as Aug. 1, with the possibility of liens being pursued after that date. She said the town had collected 100 percent of its taxes in recent years, with the weight of such letters.
Receptionist Rick Right is also taking on the title of Webmaster for the town these days, Collins reported, with work ongoing to collect content for the new Millville town Web site. The new site, at www.millvillede.us, is expected to be up and running in August and will offer information on town happenings and official business.
Collins also noted that there is still hope for a unified Millville 19967 ZIP code, with reports of a positive reception from New Jersey-based postal officials for a re-survey of local residents on the issue. Currently, the town is divided amongst the 19967, 19945 and 19970 ZIP codes, resulting in some confusion and mail delivery issues. A previous survey had a poor rate of return, with more than half of those who did return the survey opposed to the change.
The town manager said Code Enforcement Officer Bill Winter finally managed to get stop signs erected at the Millville Town Center, which had been the source of concerns over unruly and potentially dangerous traffic patterns.
Collins said he was still working with DelDOT on plans to install a “No Left Turn” sign on Route 26 at Cedar Drive, where traffic backups and near-accidents have become increasingly common as summer traffic levels rise. Also planned for that area is another “No Left Turn” sign, barring the maneuver for those exiting between Food Lion and the neighboring retail center and onto Route 26.
The Emergency Operations Committee is nearly done with its town emergency plan, Collins reported on Tuesday. She said town staff were also anticipating visit from an official from the Delaware Emergency Notification System (DENS) – sometimes referred to as “reverse 911,” which notifies Delaware residents by phone of emergencies affecting them.
She said DENS was working on a campaign designed to make sure that residents without a landline phone were aware registered with the system. All landline phones are already in the system, she said, but mobile phones are not.
Finally, Minyon announced that Town Solicitor Mary Robin Schrider Fox had resigned from her position with the town. “She decided to move on,” he said, noting that the town was now looking for a new attorney to represent it.