Millville-by-the-Sea breaks ground

After a long series of proposals, meetings, hearings and approvals — and with many more pending — Delaware’s largest-ever-approved development was scheduled to break ground at 1 p.m. yesterday in Millville.

Developers of Millville by the Sea plan over the next 10 to 12 years to build roughly 3,100 homes, a plethora of retail and corporate buildings, a massive family center, an entertainment venue and more, all along Route 17.

“Millville by the Sea is going to be a wonderful thing,” said Millville Interim Mayor Tim Droney. “I think the project should be supported 100 percent. That’s been my opinion ever since I (first) met with these people.”

The area that was set for the groundbreaking yesterday will be the future site of six model homes — which will be used to woo potential buyers and serve as a model for the future streetscape of the plan — and a welcome/sales center. Officials plan to open the sales center in the spring of next year.

“It feels good,” Millville by the Sea Project Manager Al Ruble said about the groundbreaking. “It’s busy right now. It’s going to get busier. But it’s really exciting to see this thing start to take shape.”

According to former Millville Mayor Gary Willey — a strong proponent of the project who worked closely with its developers until his resignation earlier this year, when he moved outside town limits — development officials first proposed the project more than four years ago.

Town officials annexed a combined 608 acres on both sides of Route 17 in late 2004 for Millville by the Sea as the town’s first master planned community. Developers plan to build about 2,400 homes there and the remaining 708 homes on 166 acres expected to be annexed next year.

Officials hope to begin building the 197-home, combined multi-family and single-family Phase IA near the end of the summer of 2007. Completion of all those homes could still be two years away.

From there, approvals and buildings for the remainder of the project will move in phases. Upward of 300 homes are expected to be built each year, starting with Phase IA.

Plans for the MPC also include amphitheatre for outdoor performances, man-made ponds, walking and biking trails, and other amenities built around a pedestrian-friendly main street where people will be able to walk from shop to shop. More than 300,000 square feet of retail and commercial office space is proposed as one of the focal points of the project, along with a 50,000-square-foot family center.

The two-story mammoth center — if built according to preliminary plans — will include meeting rooms, a reception hall, a stage for theatrical performances, a tenth-mile track, indoor and outdoor pools, a gym and numerous other amenities. While it will be built for Millville by the Sea residents, the roughly 300 residents who currently live in Millville are expected to have access to the facility.

Town officials have said that it is those types of compromises and amenities included in the plan that has made the Millville by the Sea project popular — perhaps strangely in this area where smaller developments have frequently been opposed.

“People just couldn’t find fault in it,” said Willey, who has said in the past that he expects Millville by the Sea to become the future “heartbeat” of Millville. “What they presented is going to be a benefit to the town.”