Ocean View wants to design Route 26 specs

Ocean View’s hopes neatly parallel Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) plans, as far as bike lanes and sidewalks along Route 26. But there’s more to building a pretty Main Street than curbs and striping.

Staff planner Kyle Gulbronson (URS) and Ocean View planning and zoning (P&Z) commissioners returned to design standards for the Route 26 corridor at workshop on Dec. 15. They’ve been at it for a few months now, and are now starting to nail down some of the fine points.

Along with the bike and pedestrian concerns (again, something that DelDOT’s improvements should address some year soon), the draft standards are designed to provide safeguards against the depletion of trees and vegetation, and create “a safe and attractive streetscape.”

The town recently re-zoned all parcels on Route 26 as General-Business (GB), so landowners can now develop either commercially or residentially along that corridor.

Most people suspect landowners will opt for either commercial or townhouse development (although they could theoretically build single-family homes, if they wanted). But whether homes or businesses, the town is trying to get the design standards will help preserve the look of Ocean View’s stretch of Route 26 as it exists today.

Gulbronson presented a photo spread showing some of the buildings he considers characteristic. They range from old homes to new businesses (and a couple of old houses that now house commercial ventures).

It’s obviously true for the last set, but as Gulbronson pointed out, even the newer businesses (Calvin B. Taylor Bank, the Raskauskas mall) have the gables and pitched rooftops typical of residential homes. “That’s the consistency you can see in Ocean View right now,” Gulbronson pointed out.

Again emphasizing the desire to maintain some of the current look, the design standards include a section encouraging historical preservation. Gulbronson was quick to differentiate between these recommendations and the more strict requirements one might find in the Lewes Historical District, or similar area governed by an architectural review board.

But the “Recognizing Historical Context” section did echo comments made by members of the town’s Historical Preservation District Committee. As committee members pointed out, there are tax incentives for restoring old homes, if the property owners follow National Register guidelines.

For instance, from the design standards, “If original details are presently covered, they should be exposed and/or repaired.”

Moving on to commercial-specific standards, Gulbronson covered orientation to the street. The stated goal was to keep businesses relatively close to Route 26, rather than set at the back of the parcel with all the parking in the front. For instance, “people traveling along (Route 26) should be able to see storefronts, windows, merchandise, and other aspects of business activity.”

This brought up some discussion about the required 40-foot front setbacks. However, as Ocean View’s Charlie McMullen (administrative official, public works supervisor) pointed out, 10 of that was reserved for DelDOT. And they’d indicated they would indeed be using it, he said, with sidewalks to be installed near the outside of the “take” zone.

Some of the existing structures are already very close to (or, in a few cases, within) that take zone, Gulbronson pointed out. As such, they would remain grandfathered exceptions until the owners applied for major renovations or changes of use.

“Whenever they’re remodeled or torn down for another use, we’ll try to get the new buildings back near the road,” Gulbronson said (but no closer than 30 feet to the widened Route 26).

Commission Member Carol Goodhand questioned the push to position new businesses near the sidewalks. “We’re encouraging people to build close where, years down the line, they might run into the same situation some people are facing now, if DelDOT wants to widen the road again,” she said.

Gulbronson agreed she had a point, but said they had to serve the community and couldn’t harness the streetscape to a project DelDOT might or might not tackle decades into the future. “It’s my understanding, once they widen (Route 26), it’s never going to be done again,” added P&Z Chair Dick Logue.

Logue referred back to the importance of safeguarding existing trees and vegetation, asking about requirements for landscaping. He suggested no streetscape could convey much charm without a little greenery.

Skipping ahead to “Parking Lot Design and General Landscaping,” the standards would, again, discourage parking lots along Route 26.

However, where the town did allow parking lots out in front or along the side, the property owners would have to include a 10-foot-wide planting area between the lot and the Route 26 right-of-way. This would feature “a year-round sight barrier,” which could be: 1) a low (3-foot, maximum) masonry wall, or 2) raised planter walls with evergreen shrubs, or 3) evergreen groundcover around deciduous shrubs and trees.

Tree placement would depend on the orientation of the parking lot – one tree per five parking spaces if the lot was in the front, one per seven spaces if along the side, and one tree for every 10 spaces for parking lots in the back.

The standards would require prominent entrances at new businesses, with at least one design element from three different groups:

• Recess, overhang, canopy, portico or porch;

• Clerestory (window feature), ornamental lighting fixtures or large entry door(s); or

• Stone, masonry or tile paving, ornamental building name or address, pots or planters with flowers, or seating.

The standards also reference “overhead protection providing shelter from inclement weather at the main building entrance,” something that elements from the first group would probably provide in any case.

The group also talked about interior sidewalks or walkways linking businesses up to the main sidewalk planned along Route 26.

Discussion eventually moved on to residential development, and McMullen asked whether private residents would be able to stack cars in their driveways all the way out to Route 26, if they were encouraging parking in the back for the businesses.

Goodhand objected to any attempts to limit residents’ use of their driveways. However, Gulbronson suggested multifamily housing would more likely prove the norm in the GB district. Those sorts of development would more typically feature intermediate drives between Route 26 and interior parking lots, individual driveways or garages.

Where that does not occur, the design standards will at least require that “building floor area shall extend at least 5 feet closer to the front lot line than the face of the garage doors” (providing a little extra stacking area, further from the street) and “where improved alleys exist, access to garages shall be off the alley.”

The group talked about various amenities often associated with residential developments, such as picnic areas or play fields. However, the consensus was to keep the kids away from Route 26 to the greatest extent possible. Commission Member Perry Mitchell noted water features and public art as appropriate exceptions.

Goodhand asked about swing sets, trampolines and the like, but McMullen said town code didn’t cover such temporary structures. Gulbronson said they probably wouldn’t be regulated at “fee simple” townhouses, although they were often addressed in homeowners’ association bylaws.

And finally, fences. Everyone preferred something open, like pickets — but no chainlink — rather than solid fencing, like stockade.

They’d waded through a good portion of the draft regulations and seemed to be entering the homestretch on Dec. 15. Another meeting or two, and Ocean View should have a solid set of standards to guide development along the Route 26 corridor through the next few decades.