Millville council bans house moves

The Millville Town Council at their Oct. 10 meeting unanimously approved a resolution banning the moving of homes within the town. Deputy Mayor Joan Bennett proposed the resolution as a stop-gap measure pending the town approving a permanent ordinance that would ban such moves.

In introducing the resolution, council members noted a number of complaints about homes that had been moved within the town, primarily about the condition in which the former and new locations were kept during the course of the move and until the homes were permanently settled at their new locations.

“I fully support the spirit of this resolution and look forward to disallowing this completely,” Bennett said, while noting that it was not in every case when a home was moved that there were problems but rather a general problem that needed to be addressed.

“Currently, we have no ordinance restricting it,” she emphasized, saying there was simply no limit on the amount of time during which a moved home could sit on the new lot without blocks, plumbing and electrical connections before a certificate of occupancy was issued.

“These properties and homes have been left fallow,” Bennett said, “not how we would want them to appear.”

Resident Hugh Dolan, however, said he felt the move was “premature.” Dolan argued that a resolution was not the appropriate way to enact a ban on moving homes, saying he believed it required a hearing and vote to restrict the actions of those within the town. He asked the council to confer with legal counsel as to whether the resolution would be enforceable.

Moreover, Dolan argued, the ban stood to alienate those involved in real estate deals that might suggest an existing home be moved. And, he said, the town’s historic homes could potentially be forced to demolition or moves outside the town if they were not permitted to be moved within the town.

“We have a lot of old houses. And a lot of them have disappeared,” Dolan said. “There’s no reason to destroy good housing. People tear down livable houses.”

Dolan said he realized there had been complaints about the homes moved from what is to become an Artisan’s Bank, to a nearby lot on Cedar Drive, but he also pointed to the successful move of the historic Robinson farmhouse to Cedar Drive, where it has since been fully renovated and sold.

Droney recognized Dolan’s point but noted there had even been complaints about the Robinson house move and how it had taken more than a year. And with historic homes and in hardship cases, Droney said, “The council will always be willing to hear a variance.”

As to the resolution’s validity, Droney said the issue already had been studied. There would be further study before a permanent ordinance was enacted, he said. “This is not spur-of-the-moment.”

The bottom line: “Just because someone can go to Bethany Beach and get a house for nothing doesn’t mean they can put it in Millville,” Droney said.

The town already prohibits the placement of mobile homes within its limits. The new ban would prohibit not only the movement of constructed homes within the town but also the moving of homes from outside the town into Millville.

Permit fees to go to fire and ambulance

Millville Town Council members also on Oct. 10 unanimously approved the allocation of 10 percent of building permit fees to the Millville Volunteer Fire Company and ambulance service.

The council had previously passed the related fee changes but needed to ratify the official allocation of funds. They are to be split equally, 5 percent for the fire company and 5 percent for the ambulance service, with all of the funds to be expended for equipment needs. Droney said the arrangement had been made in conjunction with fire company officials.

Sewer expansion expected, eventually

Also on Oct. 10, Dolan again requested the council host a workshop on sewer service being extended to residents off Reba Road near the Woodcrest development.

Droney said Dolan’s original request had been forwarded to developers, who had not responded. Dolan replied that he felt the workshop should be held by the town, whether or not developers obliged them by attending, simply to get the town’s sewer needs on the radar of Sussex County. Hooking up directly to the pumping station on the property was an option but prohibitively costly, Dolan said.

Droney noted that some funds — but not all — for extending the county sewer service had already been allocated by the county. But he said the expansion would have to wait until current expansion down County Road 350 to White’s Creek Manor, and eventually from Dove Landing down Route 26 was constructed. Until then, Droney said, the system couldn’t be activated, and completion of the project isn’t set to be finished until some time prior to July 1, 2007.

Dove Landing, he said, “is 99 percent ready to go,” but has been held up by some internal issues. He expected the eventual sewer expansion there into 2007 would lead to expansion around Reba Road. Dolan was skeptical of any promises from the county on the issue but Droney maintained optimism that the expansion would come.

Also on Oct. 10, Town Manager Linda Collins presented her administrative report, noting:

• The withholding of all permits for the Millville Town Center until issues with stormwater management are resolved.

• A request submitted to have all properties in Millville assigned a 19967 ZIP code, rather than the varying codes that exist in various areas of the town at present.

• Ordering of previously approved property tax and accounting software.

• Installation of the expanded telephone system, which Collins said she hoped meant improved access to town hall staff via telephone.

• An emergency management committee meeting held Sept. 26, with plans to provide emergency information to residents and property owners in the town through the town newsletter and in packets delivered to residences.

• Just seven remaining properties in arrears with their property taxes, totaling just $726.

• An application submitted for a USDA grant of 35 percent of the cost of a seven-passenger mini-van for town uses, something she said was “very much needed.”

• A National Incident Management System (NIMS) assessment submitted as required, with the assistance of Bennett, and plans to host a second emergency preparedness seminar in conjunction with the fire company.

• Code enforcement on four properties in the town during the prior month — three of which were on Cedar Drive, one in Creekside; review of standing water problems in The Meadows and appearance issues at the future Artisan’s Bank; work with Food Lion on the repeated appearance of parked cars for sale in the parking lot; problems with signs and banners dealt with. Collins noted the work of new Code Enforcement Officer Bill Winter: “He’s been very helpful to us. We’re glad we have him.”

Droney also noted plans to hire off-duty Delaware State Police officers and their vehicles to patrol the otherwise police-less town during the holiday season, as well as on Halloween. He emphasized that the town was planning ahead for police costs and its own eventual police force in creating a fund to pay for such costs.

Collins also issued a reminder about the planned Oct. 17 workshop with planning firm URS on updates to town ordinances. The workshop has been moved from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on that date, and is open to the public.

Home Depot dispute lingers

Finally, no Millville town council meeting in recent months would be complete without continued discussion of the planned Home Depot adjacent to Dove Landing.

Townsend Acres resident Bruce Sheppard again voiced his belief that the commercial zoning of the property had not been handled properly and reminded the council of problems the non-incorporated neighbors in his community expected with the big-box hardware store set to move in.

Sheppard noted a recent phone call from the president of a homeowner’s association for a community located behind the Home Depot in Salisbury, Md., in which complaints had been made about excessive noise after midnight and the difficulty of enforcing agreements to limit after-hours activity at the Maryland location.

Droney said he had received a similar call from the same person but emphasized that the council would be taking no action on the matter, since, he said, the project as proposed requires no vote of the council, no variance or zoning change. He noted the voluntary nature of the previous workshop with Home Depot officials and said only lingering issues between Dove Landing and Home Depot were holding up the project from moving forward.

“I don’t know how you sleep at night,” Sheppard told the council members.

“Quite well,” Droney replied, noting the necessity of a back-up alarm to wake him.

After the contentious exchange — par for the course between Sheppard and Millville officials — there was also support for the project, from another eventual neighbor, Robert Holton.

“Mr. Sheppard doesn’t speak for all the surrounding property owners,” Holton declared, issuing his own support for the project and private-property rights in general.