Work progressing on Millville by the Sea

One of the big highlights — and selling points — of the new Millville By the Sea master-planned community in Millville has always been the community’s family center: a multi-use facility featuring indoor and outdoor swimming pools, sports courts, craft and reading rooms and even a water park.

Millville Group representatives Al Ruble and Andy Timmons brought that plan to new life Tuesday in a periodic update to town officials, calling a new version of the plan their sought-after “purple cow” — the thing that would draw the eye to the community.

The new family center design — one of five new variations contracted with designers after the first blush fell off the initial design — is even larger than before and focuses even more on bringing multiple generations of family and a variety of residents together in one central location.

Those entering the redesigned facility — which is planned to rest 600 to 700 feet behind the main entrance to Millville By the Sea on Route 17 — would first see a waterwheel that Ruble described as a major feature for the entryway. Off to one side is a lounge area, while a daycare center is offered behind and to the left.

First-floor facilities feature a basketball court, volleyball court, game area, two-lane bowling alley, several lounging areas, a food court, catering service area and a multi-purpose “estate room” that could hold more than 150 people.

Ruble described the estate room as a likely potential location for wedding receptions and other events, situated as it is in the same general area of the property under discussion for a multi-denominational church.

On the opposite side of the facility from the sport courts and event room would be locker-room facilities and the indoor-outdoor pool area, which would also feature a kiddie pool. The pool is indoor-outdoor in nature, Ruble noted, because large glass doors would be opened in the summer to allow free access to the outdoor play and pool areas and closed in cooler weather to make swimming pleasant year-round.

While the current plan shown to Millville town council members on Tuesday only had four lanes in the indoor pool, Ruble said plans would likely be upgraded to call instead for a six-lane, competition quality pool. He said it was possible that the pool would be made available to local schools so that school swim teams could use it as their home base.

Just outside the pool area, along with open space and cabanas for lounging, is the much-ballyhooed water park, with three water slides, a splash-down pool, kiddie pool, wading pool and “lazy river” ride. All of this sits at the edge of a lake, which itself is bordered by a boardwalk and accented by a boat house. A sand beach on the lake is also in the planning stages.

Ruble noted other additions to the plan in the form of shuffleboard and bocce courts, and a fenced “tot-lot”, all of which he highlighted as a useful addition to the main family center as they would allow several generations of family members to play in close proximity. He said he felt the recreation options within Millville By the Sea would help make it a natural choice for grandparents and extended families, as there would be plenty to keep kids busy and happy.

Also against the backdrop of the lake is a small stage and semi-circular seating area that Ruble said would likely host concerts and other entertainments, adding arts to the sports options already to be offered at the facility.

On the family center’s second floor, which will be accessible by an elevator, will be a series of overlooks and galleries – many right off the planned indoor jogging track. Exercise options will also include a workout room that will likely house gym equipment and classes, as well as a racquetball court.

A general-purpose room could host one or more meetings at a time, with partitions to divide the space. Partitions are also able to divide the arts-and-crafts/reading area that will reside above the first-floor’s estate room.

The whole list of amenities will bring the family center to nearly 50,000 square feet in area.

“We feel we’ve got a winner this time,” Ruble enthused on Tuesday. He told council members he was still saving the center’s architecture as a special surprise for the coming months, referring back to the concept of the building as an eye-catcher.

“The architecture is beautiful. It will fit the community to a T,” he promised, assuring them the “purple cow” wouldn’t be an eyesore but rather suitable to accompany the existing plans for homes. “It will be a beacon, without being a lighthouse flashing,” he said.

Timetable moves up, access still in question

Ruble also said that, along with the revamp of the facility’s design, plans had been made to move up the timetable on its construction. He said Millville Group members hadn’t wanted to make early home buyers wait the full two years anticipated for its completion before they could use the family center.

Instead, construction would likely start sometime in 2008, with an aim to complete the facility in about 14 months, or late in 2009.

All of that led on June 5 to a question that has already been asked at prior meetings where the family center was a highlight: Who will have access to the new community’s crown jewel?

“Nothing’s written in stone yet,” Ruble and Timmons reiterated. “First and foremost,” Timmons said, “it would be for the Millville By the Sea community.”

Timmons said he expected the family center to be a big selling point for construction companies N.V. Homes and Ryan Homes, particularly out of the blocks. “It’s a selling tool for the builders now,” he said.

Discussion had taken place at previous meetings of the likelihood of access being granted to those who resided in Millville at the time of the community’s approval by the town. There had also been suggestions that adjacent property owners who were not Millville residents might be granted access.

Neither Ruble nor Timmons were able to promise that access as of Tuesday. “We have no answer yet,” Timmons said.

But both looked at the existing model of off-season access to Sea Colony facilities sold via seasonal membership to area residents as a solid concept that might come to fruition even if wider access is not granted.

Also suggested to the Millville Group on June 5 was the idea of a dog park, in addition to dog-centered facilities along the community’s 13 miles of trails. Mayor Don Minyon said he thought an area where dogs could play off the leash would be a suitable addition to the existing plan for the center.

Ruble and Timmons encouraged input from the council and citizens in these early stages of design for the community and its family center, before any engineering has been done.

Sewer project nearly complete

Engineering has been done and construction nearly completed on one of the other elements of Millville By the Sea. Expansion of the Millville Sewer District in the area of Substation Road and Beaver Dam Road has been in the hands of the Millville Group for about seven months now, and Ruble said only a few weeks of major construction remain on the project.

Work on Beaver Dam Road has been entirely completed, Ruble told council members Tuesday. And, as a bonus to the community, rather than replacing the torn-up road surface with the contract-required two inches of patched paving they opted to completely rebuild the road from the base layers on up. “We decided to do it right,” he said.

Also slated for major upgrades is Substation Road, which will run through the community and which has also been the scene of major sewer work in the past seven months. The restored road could be one of the best in the entire area, Ruble noted.

With the sewer work nearly completed, the idea is to take the rural road from a thin base with a few inches of tar-and-chip paving and no shoulders and adequate drainage to a full-featured suburban roadway with sidewalks, curbs, gutters and closed drainage system. “This is a win-win for DelDOT and the overall community,” Ruble said.

Ruble noted that the Millville Group had provided DelDOT with a traffic study that was “the largest ever seen by DelDOT.” He said they, along with other area developers, were expected to contribute substantially, monetarily, to other upgrades of local roads, as well as to the planned revamp of Route 26.

“I feel that’s very reasonable,” he said of the requirement to help improve roads that are not directly part of the new communities.

As for the sewer work that has already sparked major road renovations, Ruble said the work in deep trenches was already complete, with anticipation to finish restoration of Substation Road within a few weeks. From there, local drivers will see large equipment moved out of the area as the developers focus on completing work at the pumping station.

There, a 40-foot-deep vault is nearly ready to become home to three high-tech “smart” pumps that will provide double back-up and additional capacity as the years move along. And the neighboring control building will be under construction through September, when the project will be nearly ready to go online.

Models, sales center nearing construction

The first homes built at Millville By the Sea could indeed be needing sewer service by that November start date. Timmons said N.V. Homes and Ryan Homes were slated to start work in the coming months on models that will be built alongside Route 17.

Joining them will be a central sales center built by the Millville Group, which has also seen some modifications since its initial design phase. Ruble said the developers were looking to adapt to the current difficulties in the housing market by planning ways to both draw potential buyers and build their community more slowly, over the long haul.

“With these market conditions, we need to react, not over-react,” he said, noting plans to make the sales center suitable for its five- to seven-year anticipated lifespan. The center’s foundation is already in, with above-grade construction due to begin in the next month and to be completed shortly after the first models go up, later this summer.

Timmons said the plans for the models built by the two construction companies included not only the models that will be offered in the first phase of Millville By the Sea to be opened — Phase 1A — but also some later-phase models, so that buyers in future phases can also see some options they will have.

Phase 1A, which comprises 197 homes off Substation Road, is planned to feature mixed types of housing, from townhomes to medium-sized single-family neighborhoods to larger “estate” homes. With all state and other permitting needs wrapped up, the Millville Group only needs final construction permits from Millville to break ground on Phase 1A.

Their target date was June of 2007, putting them only slightly behind schedule, despite several changes to their plans.

Beyond the initial models off Route 17, Timmons said the two construction firms should be adding additional models inside the development heading into 2008, with the first settlements expected in Phase 1A sometime in February. That phase is designed to be a “small neighborhood” setting, Ruble noted.

“I think this will be something we can be very proud of one day,” he said of the project as a whole. “We’re going to do this thing right.”

Annexation vote on final phase set

Also on Millville’s near-term agenda regarding the master-planned community is a vote expected at their June 12 council meeting as to whether the town will annex a final proposed phase of Millville By the Sea.

Phase G1, as described on the plans for the neighborhood, stands at the northwest corner of Route 17 and Powell Farm Road. It was part of the original concept for the community but was held out of initial annexation requests as some side issues were cleared up by the developers. With those taken care of, they are now asking the town to annex the area and add it to the MPC.

As members of the town’s annexation committee, Minyon, Vice-Mayor Gerry Hocker and Councilman Richard Thomas (both of whom were absent from Tuesday’s workshop) have all supported the annexation of this phase and have recommended the council agree to the request.

Schematics for the phase have been in the hands of town engineering firm URS for several weeks now, with expectations that they will weigh in before the council vote.

“It will be 10 to 12 years before we get to this phase,” Ruble emphasized, noting again the slow pace of building planned for the community of nearly 4,000 homes over the next 10 to 20 years.

Presenting the council with a copy of the schematics that are in the hands of URS, he pointed also to the range of sizes and styles of homes being offered as something geared to offer a home for nearly everyone who might be looking in the area.

He referenced the plan’s focus on alleyways as a way to keep the streetfront look clean while providing home owners with direct access to their homes. Also of note were details like the neighborhood “pocket pools” and individual fencing, lighting and signage details that are planned to give each neighborhood its own character.

The Roxana Volunteer Fire Company has agreed to service Phase G1, taking some of the load and concern off the shoulders of an increasingly taxed Millville Volunteer Fire Company.

Councilwoman Joan Bennett raised several lingering concerns that are subject to timetable issues in the project:

(1) Will a later phase, such as G-1, be subject to the town’s new zoning and subdivision ordinances, which are set to be adopted on Tuesday, or will it be grandfathered under the same rules as other MBS phase? (Legal advice will be needed to answer that question), and

(2) How will the developers handle the as-yet-unknown factor of a potential special tax district designed to garner funding for infrastructure for the community (and possibly others) without forcing initial sales prices upward or forcing developers or the town to build infrastructure piecemeal?

On the latter question, the town has yet to make an official decision to even request the power to create a special tax district. (Bennett said she had been doing her homework to better understand the issue since previously admitting, “I don’t get it.”) If they do so on Tuesday, as may happen, it could still be some time before they are granted that power by the state legislature — if at all — and before such districts can be drawn up.

Timmons said he expected that, until a special tax district is formed, sales would take place with a bevy of disclosures, such as the one he signed when buying his current home in the Bayside community, which was done at a time when special tax districts were under consideration state-wide.

Buyers agreeing to those terms may get an additional tax bill in the future but would likely see more infrastructure constructed early in the community’s lifetime, as well as lower initial purchase prices on their homes than they might otherwise see without the special tax district.