Bank gets go-ahead from Millville council

There will soon be another new bank gracing Millville’s burgeoning financial district, if all goes according to plan.

Millville Town Council unanimously granted approval for a lot-combining and rezoning request from Artisan’s Bank at their Jan. 10 meeting. The three parcels — two previously zoned commercial and a third previously zoned residential — are located at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue (Route 26) and Cedar Drive.

Artisan’s Bank plans a building with a 3,000 square foot lobby and three drive-through lanes, with an automated teller machine. The building would be located centrally on the lot and surrounded by parking, according to a preliminary plan.

The 5-0 approval came with a slew of stipulations, however, representing the town’s ongoing concerns about preserving its character and not letting its commercial district grow uncontrollably.

Councilman Tim Droney, in making the motion for approval, added a handful of requirements upon which it was conditioned:

1) Artisan’s Bank must observe the 20-foot setback requirement for the property line bordering the single residential-zoned neighbor and also build a landscaped berm, ideally, or a fence (either possibly in the setback) that will separate the properties;

2) A lighting plan must be provided to the town prior to construction, detailing the type and direction of all lighting;

3) The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) must approve the planned entrances from the property, currently planned for both Atlantic Avenue and Cedar Drive, complete with certified engineering drawings; and

4) The town must approve the final plan, as a whole, before construction begins.

Droney started his stipulations with a requirement that the owner of the neighboring residential property on Cedar Drive certify to the town in writing that they agreed to entrance arrangements with Artisan’s Bank, owing to a shared driveway. Bank officials had noted such an agreement existed but had no written verification to offer.

However, town attorney Mary Robin Schrider-Fox said the town couldn’t impose such a requirement, as doing so would be transferring the town’s approval authority to the neighboring property owner. The neighboring property owner had had a chance to attend the hearing and voice any objections, she noted.

That stipulation was dropped from the approval motion as a result.

Droney also noted that he’d prefer to look at the berm bordering the residential neighbor as “the end” — a physical barrier marking the border of the commercial district based on Atlantic Avenue — saying he didn’t want more of Cedar Drive to become commercial.

Councilman Gerry Hocker inquired as to the status of the entrance/exit plan with DelDOT, commenting that he thought they might share his concerns that the two-entrance plan would lead to people cutting through the bank’s parking lot to get from Atlantic Avenue to Cedar Drive or vice-versa.

Bank officials said they were in the process of getting engineering information together to apply for the entrances with DelDOT but also noted that the parking lot could be arranged in such a way as to deter cut-through use.

Councilman Cliff Toomey said his concerns about the entrance plan were that it might cause some backup of traffic onto Route 26. He advised the bank to work closely with DelDOT officials to ensure that would not be the case.

Schrider-Fox emphasized that with the stipulations attached to the approval for change of zoning, the change wouldn’t officially go through until DelDOT did give approval for the bank’s entrance plan in some form.

Hocker added a last-minute request that the bank also keep the property’s primary street address on Atlantic Avenue, to further cement its identity as part of the Atlantic Avenue commercial district.

If the project comes to pass, Artisan’s Bank will join First Shore Federal, Wilmington Trust, County Bank and Wachovia — all in the space of just three blocks.

Millville resident Joan Bennett did note that she had some concerns about the proximity of the planned Cedar Drive entrance to the entrance leading to the new Millville Town Center shopping center, and the potential for there to be some resulting traffic headaches as a result of that proximity. Bank officials acknowledged the concerns.

Resident Ann Green also commented on how the Cedar Drive neighborhood had changed since her family moved there some 12 years ago. She said her 14-year-old child was now the only child left in a neighborhood that once teemed with children and their toys.

“It certainly isn’t the neighborhood it was 12 years ago,” Green observed.

And resident Ann Carol Finley noted her concern that the bank building blend in with the existing residential/historical nature of the town, inquiring as to the design plans.

Bank officials showed a picture of the bank’s most recent branch building in Millsboro — a colonial-style façade with drive-through lanes, much as is planned in Millville. Council members and those in the audience breathed a sigh of relief that no modern architecture was being considered.

In the end, with a 5-0 vote for approval recorded, Toomey noted that he’d found no negatives to the plan, while bank officials confirmed that the stipulations applied to the approval were acceptable.

If they can meet those conditions, Artisan’s Bank will soon add yet another flavor to the banking menu in the greater Millville area.