Millville prepares for hefty June agenda

Millville Town Council members cut through their pending June 16 agenda at a council workshop on Tuesday, May 22, discussing a myriad of resolutions, ordinances, policies and proposed legislation that will, if adopted, change many aspects of how the growing town operates in the future.

Topping that list of items are new zoning and subdivision ordinances, which council members have been working on for more than seven months, in order to update the town’s code to control how new commercial and residential building, and renovation of existing properties, is conducted.

A last-minute discussion of one particular figure triggered concerns on Tuesday that the long-awaited subdivision ordinance might not make it to passage in June.

Vice-Mayor Gerry Hocker pointed to a section of the code regarding planned residential communities (PRCs) that specifies that the town requires mixed use in such developments and that at least 50 percent of dwelling units in that mixed use must be single-family homes.

“Could that hurt tax revenue for the town?” Hocker asked, adding that he was inclined to allow developers to determine what the best proportion of single-family homes was for their marketing plan.

Councilman Richard Thomas was also concerned that the 50 percent ratio was too high. “It will hurt the chances of bringing property into Millville as an RPC if the county allows developers more leeway,” he said, suggesting that the town leave such decisions to the developer. “They will build a community they can be proud of, because they have to sell the homes.”

Coming from the opposite point of view, Councilwoman Joan Bennett said she feared the RPCs with a high concentration of multi-family dwellings were out of character with the town. She said she was also concerned about increased impact on town administration and services, since multi-family dwellings would allow increased density on a given property and thus bring more residents for the town to serve.

Councilwoman Kami Banks favored a moderate approach, being leery of the 25 percent single-family minimum that Thomas and Hocker settled upon, while not fully supporting a 50 percent mark either.

Her suggested minimum, 40 percent, was seized upon by Mayor Donald Minyon, who asked that that figure be used in the ordinance up for a vote on June 16, in hopes to bring the other three council members to the table and get the new ordinance passed.

Special tax district could move forward

Having heard from a series of proponents of special tax districts over the last few months, council members were also ready to move forward this week on a charter change that would allow the town to become one of just a handful of municipalities in Delaware, to date, that can establish such districts.

The concept of the districts is to allow infrastructure to be built at the outset of a project, with money fronted by investors who would later be repaid with low-interest annual payments from those who buy property in the development served by the infrastructure.

One of the proponents of the notion has been the Millville Group, which is behind the Millville By the Sea master-planned community. In the case of MBS, a special tax district could bring money for installation of roadways and sewer infrastructure, or to support police and fire service — or for something less basic, like a library.

Rather than the developer charging a higher initial price for homes in the development or having to make infrastructure improvements piecemeal as funds were available during phased construction, with a special tax district, the investors would front the money for immediate construction of the infrastructure, and the individual property owners would repay their portion of the larger loan over a period such as 30 years, at a low interest rate.

The town would designate and oversee special tax districts, if any are approved, with the costs of administration being part of the loan structure and not coming from town coffers.

Thus, proponents have explained, the town would serve to benefit from the early completion of infrastructure without financial constraints on the developer, and of the potential to help fund needed services, such as the police Millville currently lacks, the fire and ambulance service that is being taxed by growth, and possibly even niceties such as a library, park or other public facility.

The first step toward establishing the special tax districts is getting a charter change that would allow Millville the power to designate the districts.

Bridgeville obtained that power three years ago and its mayor raved about the notion — particularly now that the kinks are worked out — before Millville’s council in recent weeks. Millsboro recently obtained the same kind of charter change, and Laurel is also pursuing the power.

Millville Group representatives have expressed concern about getting the charter change enacted by the end of the current legislative session in June, some 15 days after the next council meeting.

But state Rep. Gerald Hocker told council members on Tuesday that the need was less urgent this year because legislation left not acted upon at the end of June 2007 won’t die, as it usually would, but will be held over for action until the end of a two-year legislative calendar in June of 2008.

Still, Hocker offered to help speed the process ahead if Millville officials requested it, saying he would ask the House attorney to review a draft charter amendment for special tax district powers that was provided by the Millville Group.

If council members agree to pursue the charter change, he said, only then would he ask that legislation for the change be drafted for possible passage in the House. State Sen. George Howard Bunting has promised to do likewise if asked by the town.

It was all too much speed for Bennett, who said she had “substantial and grave concerns” about the proposed charter change and even about taking a vote about it in two weeks time.

“I have not seen the amendment that has been proposed,” she said. “The town attorney has not had the chance to review it. Having read it three times now, I still don’t understand the proposal, what it means for this town. … I am not clear on it. And until I am clear, I will not vote on it.”

“I don’t get it. It has not been sufficiently explained to me,” she added. “I feel pressured to vote when called upon to vote on it in two weeks.”

Several present at the meeting attempted to assuage Bennett’s concerns. Rep. Hocker said he felt the town had had the best expert on the subject before them recently, with Hal Salmons’ testimony before them, as Salmons was one of the originators of special tax districts in the region. “If you didn’t get it with him here…” he started.

Representatives of the Millville Group said they felt Bennett was getting the proverbial “cart before the horse,” as all her concerns and questions about the details of a special tax district being implemented in Millville would be moot if the town couldn’t agree to seek the power or couldn’t get the state legislature to make the charter change allowing it.

“This is the first baby step to try to work out the rest,” they said, worried that the legislation could be tabled until 2008.

Thomas said he also supported moving ahead, calling the charter change a kind of home rule, as it would allow the town to make its own decision on whether to establish the tax districts. He said he’d been won over to the notion by lengthy discussions with all three sets of experts and the Bridgeville mayor.

Gerry Hocker and Banks both agreed that no harm would be done by asking the House attorney to review the proposed amendment for any recommended changes, and to consider possibly voting on formally requesting the charter change at their June 12 meeting. Minyon was on board for that, while Bennett remained opposed to the latter but was agreeable to the attorney’s review, along with that of the town solicitor.

Road inspections, noise and trash on the radar

Also on May 22, council members said they were ready to consider an amendment to the recently adopted public works agreement that sets out responsibilities of developers for infrastructure such as roadways.

In the face of developer concerns after the adoption of the agreement framework, Code Enforcement Officer Bill Winter said that he and Millville Group’s Al Ruble had reexamined the issue.

Winter recommended that rather than hiring an outside engineering firm, the town allow him to do final roadway inspections, on the grounds that engineering specifications for road substrates and materials requirements would be checked over many times by engineers working for investors, developers and contractors, and that Winter could perform visual checks without much, if any additional training.

Ruble said that the recommended fee structure for the revised inspections was not only a savings for developers over original proposals but was in line with regional averages and would allow for a back-up engineer to aid or substitute for Winter. “We’re not building a bridge here,” he emphasized about the limited variation and risk in simple roadway construction.

Minyon said he favored the idea, adding, “I want to see some roads going down soon.” The change would also allow much of the related fees to developers to remain in town coffers, instead of being paid to consultants, Winter noted.

Council members also indicated that they would favor the adoption of a town noise ordinance, citing regular complaints about noise in the town. While the lack of a police department poses a major problem in the area of enforcement, council members said they would prefer to have a noise ordinance on the books and hope to be able to more effectively enforce it in the future.

Millville resident Arthur Brewer, who had come to the workshop with a complaint about four-wheelers running about noisily in the wee hours of the morning, said he favored an ordinance simply because it would give him some standing to complain to the state police who are the town’s only law enforcement option at this time. Without an ordinance on the books, he said, there was no way to file a complaint.

As drafted, the ordinance also limits noisy propositions such as a mass gathering, parade and lawn mowing. In the case of the latter, permitted hours would be 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., while council members may move to add controls on mass gathering and parades so that permits and exceptions to the noise ordinance can be granted in the future.

Council members also said they were ready to move forward with an ordinance restricting the moving of houses within and into the town. On Tuesday, they agreed to allow an exception to permit moving of a structure within the same property. Banks stated opposition to the ordinance, while support — vehement, in the case of Bennett, who originated the ordinance — came from the other council members.

Additional work on a proposed policy for use of the town hall meeting room should get it ready in time for June 16, with council members fine-tuning the draft to permit area non-profit groups, municipalities, religious groups, property owners associations, civic groups and government agencies to rent the meeting room with a $100 security fee, $20 per hour fee to cover an employee presence and a $100 application fee. All uses would have to be approved by the council, with enhanced need as the South Coastal Library nears renovation.

Council members also discussed on Tuesday clarifying how the town can begin assessing a rental receipts fee on landlords in Millville. A 5 percent fee is already in the town’s permit fee schedule, but staff was unable to locate related legislation. Council members were in agreement that the fee could be a good source of needed operating revenue for the town.

Winter also proposed on May 22 that the town consider adding a short-term business license to its list of options, allowing someone with a small job (under $500) or temporary need to work inside town limits to do so without going to the trouble and expense of getting a full business license.

He also suggested the implementation of a fine for property owners who do not ensure that work done on their property – particularly that not requiring a permit – is done only by those with a town business license.

Finally, Winter told Minyon that his research into possible municipal trash service had yielded the recommendation that Dumpsters delivered to town hall once a week, during the business day only, was the “most feasible” option.

He said the need to map out a route for a hauler and to monitor for violations and errant curbside items made a standard hauling contract impractical for the town. Minyon said the idea would be revisited when a six-month budget check is done in the fall.

Council members will take up the bulk of the above measures at the June 12 council meeting, also holding public hearings on: (1) the annexation of another phase of Millville By the Sea, and (2) annexation as a RPC of about 25 acres of property owned by Peter DeMarie, Gerry Hocker, Carey M. Hocker, Felix Medina and Carols Velasquez on the southwest of the town.