Townhome development presented to town

Plans to build a 57-unit townhome development on Beaver Dam Road, adjacent to existing Millville town limits, came up for review by the town’s annexation committee and other neighboring property owners at a June 21 meeting.

The nearly 11-acre group of seven parcels comprises the partially wooded northwest corner of Substation and Beaver Dam roads, four undeveloped parcels to the immediate west of that corner parcel and three undeveloped parcels on south side of Beaver Dam, directly across the street.

It encompasses nearly 2,100 feet of road frontage, 820.3 feet on south side of Beaver Dam Road, 1082.56 feet on north side of Beaver Dam and 164 feet on Substation Road. The individual parcels range between 1.02 and 2.21 acres in size.

Owners Peter DeMarie, Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr., Carey M. Hocker, Felix Medina and Carlos Velasquez have applied to the Town of Millville for annexation, citing the fact that some of the parcels are adjacent to the previously annexed property of the Millville Group, which is set to become Millville By the Sea.

The group of owners of this latest potential annexation have also requested the town zone the property as residential, with a conditional use for the town’s Residential Planned Community (RPC) District.

Though the town has not yet formally considered the annexation, nor the zoning request, council members and town staff have already been looking at the issue, since the three parcels on the south side of Beaver Dam Road were not included in the town’s “areas of interest” for possible annexation in its most recent comprehensive plan.

Adding them to the list of areas of interest is required by state agencies before the town can formally grant annexation. With background work from the owners and town staff, the town in May obtained the OK of the Office of State Planning Coordination for addition to the town’s planning map, and the council voted at their June meeting to adopt the new map with the parcels added.

Thus it came to the town’s Annexation Committee on June 21, with a hearing before the town council planned for their July 12 meeting. No formal action by the committee was scheduled for June 21.

The committee also saw a slight shuffling of its membership for the presentation, since Vice-Mayor Gerry Hocker normally sits on the committee but had to recuse himself as one of the owners of the property in question. Councilwoman Kami Banks, who also sits on the committee, was absent for the meeting, leaving Councilman Richard Thomas the only regular member who was able to participate.

Short of a quorum for the meeting, the town drafted Mayor Donald Minyon to be present on Banks’ behalf and proceeded with getting information from DeMarie on the planned residential project.

A handful of nearby neighbors also turned out on June 21, in response to mandatory notifications from the town about the annexation and zoning requests. Several of them immediately expressed concerns about the plan, particularly the plan for a townhome-only development and for the modest planned price point — around $250,000 each.

The neighbors noted that their single-family homes were already in place or had recently been built, some with the intention to use them as summer homes before retiring there. They questioned the potential impact of the price point and townhome plan on their single-family home investments at the edge of existing development – recently appraised, in one case, at nearly $300,000.

“We want them to be sharp-looking, too,” DeMarie emphasized to the neighbors, despite the modest pricing. He noted plans for a community pool and attractive landscaping. “I don’t think there’s much difference in the curb appeal from $250,000 to $400,000,” he countered.

Also questioned that Thursday was the wisdom of developing a townhome community in that area now, and adjacent to Millville By the Sea, which will have a mixed multi-family and single-family plan. With nearly 4,000 homes planned for the master-planned community, would the planned DeMarie-Hocker development only serve to feed a glut of homes during a slow market, and thus depress property values further?

DeMarie emphasized the affordability for those looking to remain in the area while working at jobs that are needed in the community. “I hope these people will be locals,” he said, “workers, regular people.”

He said he was not looking to develop the community as a place they would directly rent out, but rather to sell individual detached townhomes to those who would live there, preferably full-time.

Neighbors, however, were concerned about who might be drawn to buy the homes, and Minyon agreed.

“I don’t want a community of all townhomes,” he said, citing the tendency for second-home owners and investors to purchase townhomes, whereas families with children and plans to put down roots in the community would look for single-family homes. “I want the town to grow, with families,” he added.

Minyon said he would prefer a mixed residential plan with some single-family homes, as could become mandated under the town’s new subdivision ordinance, which is set for possible adoption in July. But he acknowledged that on just more than 10 acres, a mixed-use development would be hard to realize. Minyon said he was also concerned about the inclusion of properties that were — until the application for annexation — outside the scope of the town’s comprehensive plan.

DeMarie focused on June 21 on the advantages of the project to the neighbors, citing the increased likelihood of access to central water and sewer for them if the project is annexed into Millville.

He said annexation would provide his project with a connection to the recently expanded sewer system in the area, as conducted by the Millville Group. As adjacent properties to those to be connected in the future, he said, the neighbors would stand a better chance of getting their own properties connected — a positive for the otherwise skeptical neighbors.

DeMarie also cited planned improvements to Beaver Dam Road, which is notoriously narrow, bumpy and lacking shoulders. He said improvements to the road would be required for his project, using easements already granted to the state.

Annexation of the project into Millville, he suggested, would also potentially bring the neighbors closer to being annexed themselves, with the potential for town police service looming on the horizon, along with the other centralized services. He further noted a willingness to leave existing vegetation between the properties in place, if allowed to by the state.

While there was no vote taken on June 21, Thomas said he couldn’t see any disadvantage to annexation for the town. “Within five years, everything in that area will be brought in,” he predicted, noting the expectations of improved drainage, roads, sewer and water. He pointed to the expansion of the town’s tax base with new properties and residents. “This area is ripe for continued growth,” he said.

Concerns about the exact nature of the growth DeMarie proposed lingered last week, with DeMarie emphasizing that the initial plans presented were conceptual only and would take a more cohesive shape in a future preliminary plan stage.