County P&Z recommends parking changes

The Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) recommended approval of several ordinance changes at its Nov. 17 meeting, including some potentially contentious parking requirement changes. But the commissioners were split on the most sweeping of those proposed changes.

The notion of reducing minimum parking requirements from three per unit to two per unit for multi-family units (i.e., townhouses), on a case-by-case basis, split the commissioners 2-2, with the commission’s vacant fifth seat yet to be filled.

Commissioner Benjamin Gordy first recommended approval for the change but did not receive a second for his motion. But neither could the commissioners vote it down, with Rodney Smith and Michael Johnson voting in favor of denial, while Robert Wheatley and Gordy voted against a denial.

With no fifth member to break the tie, the proposed change saw no official action from the commission.

The commissioners were, however, of one mind on the other proposed ordinance changes and unanimously approved (4-0):

• A more extensive ordinance regarding the permitting of sharing of required parking serving multiple uses within the same project and ownership, upon approval of the commission on a case-by-case basis with future uses not guaranteed;

• A reduction in minimum parking space size requirements, down from 10 by 20 feet to 9 by 18 feet. (The standard 10-by-22-foot parallel-parking space and a 8-by-17-foot compact car space were retained from the current ordinance.); and

• A reduction in the required size of an interior drive within parking areas, to 24 feet from 25 feet.

Each of the ordinances was taken from a Lenexa, Kansas, code drafted in 1992. Commission staffers noted that they’d called the Kansas town to verify that the code was working for them and got a positive report.

Testifying during the public hearing portion of the discussion of Chapter 115’s parking regulations, Bethany Beach resident Wendy Baker supported all of the proposed changes, citing their potential impact in reducing impervious surfaces and encouraging residents and visitors alike to minimize the number of vehicles they bring to the beach.

Baker noted that she was testifying as a resident and not from her position as president and CEO of the Sussex County Land Trust, though that and experience in real estate as a project manager for a residential planned community (RPC) had allowed her to do some research on the impact of parking requirements, she said.

Of the controversial 3-to-2 space change, Baker noted she’d seen visitors plan to actually take fewer cars to the beach when parking spaces were more limited, knowing they’d have a harder time finding a place to park. The reduced number of cars, as well as the reduced amount of impermeable surface would be of environmental benefit, she said.

State agencies noted the latter benefit in position letters sent to the commission concerning all of the various changes, as well as noting a potential to also reduce the size of stormwater ponds as a result.

Baker, like Ocean View resident and builder Brett Dyer, suggested the ordinances, if passed, should be applied not only to future construction but to those plans already in the pipeline or newly through but not yet constructed.

Commission staffers said the retroactive change could be done with site plan revisions, but it would have to come back to the commission since code the code, as written, says the commission has to approve the exception and the applicant justify why it should do so. The commissioners encouraged anyone planning on doing so to apply as soon as possible, as there is a 20- to 30-day delay to get such a review scheduled.

Dyer noted that when he’d heard of the proposed change, he’d considered the possibility of reducing the size of the parking lot he’s already built at the Cedar Bay development with accompanying parking contributed to the neighboring CHEER center. He said that reducing that parking area would contribute to the desirability of the land. He declared himself “110 percent” in favor of the idea.

Dyer also said he believed allowing enough parking for extended families was an exception to the normal needs for condominiums and similar smaller dwellings.

Regarding the sharing of parking and future uses, commissioners said property owners would just have to be mindful that a future use might not be approved for such an arrangement, particularly if the types of uses of the neighboring properties were no longer at the opposite sides of the clock. It would be a risk that they would have to evaluate.

While there was some concern expressed that the shifts might lead to an overall increase in density, commissioners were assured that existing density limits would mean only a potentially larger size for individual units and not more of them under the new parking regulations.

Specifically on the subject of reduced space size, Nancy Wolf of Chez La Mer Restaurant said she was opposed. She said the area doesn’t need smaller spaces but larger ones, since “most cars on the road today are behemoths.”

The reduced width for interior drives was noted as minor thing — something that had been on the books to do for a while but was so simple it just never got done. Since DelDOT entrance requirements put entrances at 24 feet in width, the 25-foot width was just an unnecessary adjustment when building parking lots, commissioners said.

Altogether, the two recommended changes on size add up to a 5-foot savings for every double row of parking. That’s 5 feet less of pavement to block stormwater runoff.

On the unsuccessful ordinance change, Johnson delved into previous concerns that had been raised when the commission had upped the requirement from two spaces to three in 1997. He said beach-side development was a particular area where more spaces were needed due to visitors wanting to spend time at beach homes.

Baker argued that limited parking would mean fewer cars on the road, but Johnson was not convinced and the proposed ordinance change died with the commissioners tied.

On the subject of ordinances, commissioners picked back up and unanimously approved the previously deferred appeals ordinance change to Chapter 99, for subdivisions. Commissioners had requested revisions in the ordinance, dictating that appeals on commission decisions would have to be made for the preliminary plat, not the final one.

They also recommended the appeal go to the Sussex County Council rather than back to P&Z, to remove the possibility of an appeal bouncing back and forth before the commission under repeated decisions and appeals.

Appellants would also need to include a reason for appeal (showing a commission error) with the application but they would not be able to enter new testimony into the record, to avoid allowing a “do-over” situation. Instead, they will pay to have a transcript of the hearing record made, which will be the only testimony considered by the council when appeals are heard.

The revision also makes clear that appellants can appeal a condition imposed by the commission, not just the whole decision, making the process more streamlined. The changes do not apply to non-subdivision applications, as RPCs already have a different appeals process. It applies to any application filed after the adoption of the amendment.

Commissioners also unanimously approved the preliminary application of Dagsboro Trace LLC for a 25-lot clustered subdivision on 21.7 acres of AR-1 zoned land south of Route 26 and west of Townsends Road (Road 340).

The approval came after some adjustments to the original plan made on the basis of a June 2005 review. The changes included reducing the number of lots from 27 to 25, relocating a stormwater management area.

Commissioners said they felt the plan was consistent with neighboring properties, which are a mix of residential and commercial use. The community will be served by individual wells and septic, with a feasibility statement due for the latter. They noted an attempt to minimize the razing of mature trees and a lack of significant grade changes.

The plan for the development was deemed superior and innovative, as required by the subdivision ordinance, featuring a 26.2 percent open-space percentage — an increase of 49 percent in open space from the original plan.

Amenities will include recreational facilities, a community garden and a wooded area that will be available for residents to use as a dog-walking area or other similar use. The final site plan is still subject to approval by the commission.

Commissioners also unanimously approved the application of Cindy L and Harry L. Blades Jr. to subdivide five AR-1 acres east of Road 346 and north of Road 347 into three lots. The preliminary application was deferred for action in June, subject to a septic feasibility statement for individual septic, which had since been provided.

Commissioners said the subdivision met the purpose of the subdivision ordinance by encouraging low-density, orderly growth in the county. They restricted access to the private street called Gunner Lane.

Also at the Nov. 17 meeting, commissioners also:

• Approved as preliminary a 196-lot Caldera development in the Oak Orchard area, noting the density of the plan was less than the maximum allowable in the GR general residential zone. The plan was deemed to preserve open space and protect wetlands. The final plan is still subject to commission approve.

• Approved as preliminary the 155-lot cluster subdivision of Carriage Springs Run off Route 30, after a redesign of the project to better meet PLUS comments. The plan retains 39 percent open space, protects forests and provides for recreational areas, fishing ponds, forested trails and undisturbed wetlands.

• Granted an extension to the Woods Cove RPC, on the basis that extended litigation during the preliminary approval process had put the development behind on its final record plan.