It was the first of the Millville Annexation Committee’s regular meetings — now set on the third Thursday of every month — and it was an important one in the town’s future.
The Jan. 18 meeting among the three council members who sit on the committee included consideration of the possible annexation of some 168 acres on the southwest side of the already-annexed lands that are to become Millville by the Sea (MBS), the town’s first master planned community.
Indeed, the new request includes lands that were part of the original MBS plan and are still planned to become yet another phase in the 2,500-plus units in the community.
Millville Group’s Andrew Timmons attended the Jan. 18 on the developers’ behalf, proclaiming their desire to work with the town and cooperate in building the large multi-phase project. The as-yet-unnamed phase planned generally for the west side of Route 17, south of Powell Farm Road, would include 708 mixed townhome and single-family home units as currently planned, he said.
Town Council and Committee Member Gerry Hocker noted that he recalled the area as one of the lowest-density phases on the original MBS plan.
Timmons confirmed that but said the phase — delayed in the annexation process by other issues that have since been cleared — had been changed slightly since then, raising its original density just a bit, to approximately the same 4.2 units per acre planned for the project on average.
Millville by the Sea was briefly considered under county density standards before the developers applied to the town for annexation. County standards would allow 6.2 units per acre for areas within municipalities and their environs, largely based on anticipated sewer capacity. Rural areas are generally permitted at 4 units per acre.
So the 4.2-unit-per-acre overall density of the current plan — and the phase now proposed for annexation — comes in well below the maximum density it might be allowed as part of Millville and nearly as low as the maximum for rural areas of the county. The committee members were generally pleased with that notion, also noting the preponderance of single-family homes in the new plan.
Timmons said on Jan. 18 that the proposed new phase was also included in a 2004 Certificate of Public Convenience & Necessity (CPCN) filed by Tidewater Utilities to provide water to the area, and, he said, Tidewater was even prepared to break ground on its local service facility in the next 120 days.
Also clearing the list of possible hurdles for annexation was a prior hearing on the project at which county officials did not object to its possible annexation into Millville. Timmons told Annexation Committee Chairman and Town Council Member Don Minyon he would try to get that lack of objection to annexation formalized in a letter.
Another item yet to be checked off the town’s new official checklist for the annexation process was the forwarding of comments from the Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination (OPSC) on the proposed annexation to town planning consultant Kyle Gulbronson of URS for his review.
Also, notably, the town does not currently include the 168 acres among its “areas of concern” for annexation. Town Manager Linda Collins said she had already checked into how the town could clear that hurdle and was told by state planning officials that it could be dealt with by requesting an amendment to the areas of concern from the state when and if the annexation committee and town council approve the annexation.
Notification standards stepped up
But the biggest issue on the newly formalized list of annexation concerns and for Chairman Minyon was the issue of notification. For the Jan. 18 meeting on the MBS application, none of the 29 property owners with property neighboring the 168-acre parcel had been officially and directly notified by the town.
“This is something we’ve never done before,” explained Collins. “I think it has to go before the Annexation Committee first.”
Minyon disagreed, saying those with an interest in the application should be notified even prior to a council consideration of the annexation. “I believe they should be notified and be able to attend the annexation meetings,” he said, asking that Collins make sure all 29 neighbors were notified officially before any annexation decisions were made.
Minyon, who volunteers in his free time with the Center for the Inland Bays, said he also wanted to resolve concerns expressed during the Preliminary Land Use Service review of the project about impervious surfaces. He noted that the Millville Group had provided a response to those PLUS concerns but said he wanted to review that response with Soil Conservation District officials.
Council and committee member Richard Thomas said he had also noted concerns under PLUS about providing room to extend roadways inside the development in the future, should it be expanded beyond the current proposed parcel. Timmons replied that the only area among those surrounding the parcel that was not already divided into single-family lots or part of existing subdivisions was a bit of land to the west, but he agreed the issue could be considered in finalizing the design for the phase.
Stress on MVFC, town resources a chief concern
Much higher on the list of concerns for both Thomas and Minyon was the potential impact of the large development on the existing town center, on Route 26, and its largely volunteer-staffed fire company.
“What assurances can you provide that old Millville will not be overloaded with responsibilities to the new subdivision?” Thomas asked Timmons, noting recently aired concerns that council members have over the possibility that the town might be forced to care for roadways despite its policy of not adopting any into the town.
“Will we have enough tax money to support the new community?” he asked, referring to a $190-per-lot municipal service cost from his former hometown of Columbia, Md. “This will be a burden we put on our grandchildren.”
“We want to work with you, to cooperate with you,” Timmons replied. “We want to figure these things out now instead of halfway into the process.”
Dealing with one specific area of the issue of pressure on the town’s existing services, the Millville Volunteer Fire Company has filed a letter stating its own concern about the additional burden of the thousands of homes and an unknown number of full- and part-time residents who will need protection in Millville by the Sea.
Already the department has planned for future expansion on a lot in unincorporated Clarksville and for additional capital funding through real estate-related fees assessed by the town. Timmons noted that the Millville Group had previously offered the MVFC a 5-acre parcel inside the development to bring an external site closer to its future needs. He said the proximity of that site to power lines had led the department to reject the offer and buy the other parcel instead.
But Thomas — who is a member of the department — said the real concern was over staffing. The MVFC has just eight paid firefighter and emergency medical positions in the winter, 12 such positions in the summer, with the remaining firefighters working on a solely volunteer basis.
Already there is concern that volunteer capacity cannot meet impending demand, as well as worry that a new generation of volunteers might not step forward to replace those who retire from active service in the coming years. That could press the fire company to significantly expand not only recruitment efforts but also paid firefighting positions — something that would likely put additional pressure on the town to apportion revenue toward that end.
Minyon and Thomas suggested that the Millville Group’s next step under that tenant of cooperation would be to meet with MVFC officials and begin to determine what can be done to help ensure sufficient emergency coverage in the future. Timmons said he planned to do so.
Millville also currently has no police department, instead relying on occasional service from the Delaware State Police. While the town has started saving toward the eventual creation of its own police force, it is only in the very earliest stages of that effort.
Though MBS is expected to be built over the next 15 years or more, making the growth of the town’s population slower than it might seem from the final numbers alone, the question remains how a large development such as MBS might help pull its own weight in that arena as well. Minyon noted that lengthy period and said now was the time for Millville to begin looking at long-term strategies for dealing with such municipal service needs, before the eventual residents of the community arrive and need them.
Incentives offered to boost attendance
With such long-term needs and community input in mind, Minyon expressed some disappointment with the lack of public turnout at the Jan. 18 annexation committee meeting. In fact, just one member of the public — a neighboring property owner — and only one member of the media attended the meeting.
But Minyon and Collins said they had plans to change that for the future. In time for the committee’s next meeting, set for Thursday, Feb. 15, at 10 a.m., Minyon said he planned to implement Collins’ suggestion to offer free coffee, doughnuts and cookies, as well as free Millville T-shirts to the first 50 attendees.
Despite the note of amusement with which he made the incentive offer, it was genuine. “We hope that in February even more of the town will come to the meeting,” Minyon said.
The committee has 90 days during which it can make a recommendation on the proposed annexation of the new phase of Millville by the Sea. The Feb. 15 meeting will be the second meeting on the subject, with all those neighboring property owners officially notified this time out. Once it makes its recommendation, the town council will be able to take action on the application.