A day after the Sussex County Council, by a 3-2 vote, approved construction of 200 apartments at the intersection of Railway and Old Mill roads near Millville and Ocean View, an opponent of the project said he and other adversaries will consider suing the council “for not following its own rules.”
“This project doesn’t harmonize with the Sussex County Comprehensive Plan,” Marty Lampner told the Coastal Point on Wednesday, following the June 15 council vote. For example, he said, the Comprehensive Plan recommends parking be in the least conspicuous areas, but cars will certainly be noticeable at the new apartment development.
“We never said, ‘Don’t build.’ We have said it has to fit in with the community. I think, unfortunately, what we saw [Tuesday] is our council is governed primarily by fear developers will sue them, and that is grossly inappropriate. That was fairly evident at least in Mr. Vincent’s comments. … He offered some cosmetic patches, but in the end, his real motivation was to prevent the County from being sued,” Lampner said.
He was referring to Council President Michael Vincent, who voted in favor of the project and who, at the council meeting on Tuesday, June 15, said he gave the matter much thought and is aware courts can “make a project like this difficult to deny.”
The property is already zoned GR—General Residential, allowing for up to four units per acre, by right. No greater density was requested by the developer.
“That’s an important factor to me,” Vincent said.
Before the vote, he recommended some conditions on the project, and the council approved them all. The amendments require:
- Posting 24-by-36-inch signs, in English and Spanish, at all entrances, announcing construction is ongoing.
- Installing silt fencing and being sure any tree removed from the site because it is damaged, dead or dying, will be replaced by trees that are at least 6 feet tall at the time of planting.
A silt fence is a temporary sediment control device to protect waterways from loose soil. Generally, the fences consist of a piece of synthetic filter fabric stretched between stakes.
- Placing a vegetated or forested buffer at least 30 feet wide along the perimeter of the development using existing forest, where it exists, and not disturbing existing trees; installing silt fencing along the exterior limit of the buffer area; and replacing dead or dying vegetation.
- Maintaining vegetative screens and replacing dead or dying vegetation with similar plantings.
- Installing street lighting on the outside of the development, on Railroad and Old Mill roads.
Hudson, Schaeffer vote in opposition
Councilman Doug Hudson, who represents District 4, encompassing Ocean View, Millville, Bethany Beach, Long Neck, Oak Orchard and Rehoboth Beach, voted against approval for several reasons, he said, including that traffic has “significantly increased on nearby roadways without any corresponding roadway improvements.”
“And I am not satisfied that DelDOT’s requirements of this developer will mitigate the existing traffic issues in the area or sufficiently address the additional traffic created by this development,” Hudson said, reading from a prepared statement.
“I am concerned that the intensive development that is proposed on this site, along with all the impervious surfaces, will adversely affect the existing drainage problems in the area. Since the prior development was approved, Sussex County spent a lot of time and energy writing a new Comprehensive Plan. The new plan provides guidelines where higher-density uses, such as multi-family developments, should occur.
“Such factors include the proximity to major roadways or intersections and being near commercial areas and areas of employment,” he continued. “Although this development is somewhat near the Route 26 corridor, it is separated from the corridor by two-lane roads with little or no shoulders. There is no access to public transportation from the site, and the commercial and employment areas along Route 26 are not safely walkable or bikeable from the site.
“With all the single-family developments that now surround this site, I believe the single-family development is now more appropriate for this location,” he noted.
“Also, the particular design of this development includes garage buildings located around the entire perimeter of the developed area. This gives off a commercial, or even industrial, appearance facing outwards. Again, this is inconsistent with the otherwise single-family development that has occurred in the immediate area,” Hudson stated.
He said concerns expressed by the neighboring residents were valid and that they “made strong arguments about the traffic problems, drainage impacts on the neighborhoods and area properties, and other factors that I have taken into consideration.”
Disagreeing with the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendation, he said the commission seemed to emphasize that a similar development was previously approved on the same site, although that development approval had since expired.
Hudson noted that commissioners also said the development is a type of affordable housing for the county’s workforce, availability of which has been an issue of concern, especially in the eastern part of the county. While he said he agrees, he said believes such housing should be closer to major roadways, employment centers, and existing or planned public transportation.
“None of those factors exist here, and the site is poorly located for people who do not own their own vehicles. For all of these reasons, I am voting no,” Hudson said.
Councilman Mark Schaeffer also voted against approval, based, he said, on testimony from opponents.
Rieley, Green offer support
Councilman John Rieley and Councilwoman Cynthia Green both voted to approve the project, both citing the recommendation of the Planning & Zoning Commission following the commission’s public hearing in March. Hundreds of opponents of the project spoke at that hearing, for hours, but no members of the public had spoken in favor of the project at the hearing.
After the county council meeting on Tuesday, project opponent Tom Goglia told the Coastal Point he and others in opposition commended Schaeffer for paying attention to the opposition and valuing their concerns. He said Hudson made a well-reasoned and legally-valid decision.
“He also cited the fact that he did not view this development as being in support or of complying with the current Comprehensive Plan. It was clear Mr. Hudson gave appropriate weight to the character of neighborhood provisions of the plan and the fact that it carries force of law.
“It appeared Mr. Vincent and Rieley gave that little consideration. I think I can confidently say this development will not be welcome in this neighborhood,” Goglia said.
Members of the Evans Watch Farm Coalition, formed to block the development of the apartments, will continue to explore further options to stop it, he said.
“The energy is there, fight on,” Goglia said.
He and scores of area residents spoke against the project at the Thursday, March 25, Planning & Zoning Commission hearing.
“Sussex County has completely lost its mind with regards to development,” Bethany Bay resident Don Shope told Coastal Point at the time. (Bethany Bay is located near the Evans Farm site and was also developed by Evans Farm developer Linder & Co.)
“I hate the idea of 200 apartments jamming our roadways and exploiting our limited resources, effectively blocking the roads we have to use daily. Any jerk with a bag of money gets approved and let the residents suffer. … If I want daily beltway traffic delays, I’ll move back to D.C. The P&Z Commission is ruining the area for everyone,” Shope said.
He sent Coastal Point a picture from a friend who lives in Banks Acres, near the proposed apartments, and said it illustrates flooding already coming from Evans Farm, across Railway to Banks Acres.
“The County doesn’t take care of what we have already, yet insists on more building. It makes no sense,” Shope said.
“The fact that 13 communities came together to oppose this, along with the signatures of 1,500 petitioners, demonstrates the depth of the opposition to this development design,” Goglia said.
“We feel we made strong, coherent arguments in both the P&Z hearing and the County Council hearing. … We were amused and simultaneously disturbed at being labeled laypeople in the hearings, as if we had inferior knowledge of the area, the parcel and the impact on our neighborhoods.
“In fact, we are the experts here because we have invested here, live here, drive the roads, experience the traffic and experience flooding in times of heavy precipitation. Overall, we are painfully aware that the lack of road and infrastructure investment has not kept pace with the rapid development in our community,” Goglia wrote in his statement.
“A compressed development of 36 buildings in a circled wagon-train design, on a relatively small parcel, will do nothing to add to the character of our community. It will only increase our pain and devalue our investments.
“The County Comprehensive Plan, which calls for development that adds to the character of a community, instead of intruding upon it, has the force of law and is reinforced by Sussex County Code Article 1 Subsection 115-3. It that states that development should contribute to the character of the neighborhood, while lessening congestion and conserving property values. This application fails compliance with these requirements,” Goglia wrote.
Although the P&Z Commission imposed requirements on the developer, Ocean View resident Dave Bartlett called them “boilerplate conditions,” such as requiring that trees are planted and existing soil not be disturbed, and verifying where the bus stop will be for students attending Lord Baltimore Elementary School.
“It’s amazing they won’t listen to reason. It will never change. It will take a biblical event for that to change,” Bartlett said.
Other objectors included a woman who compared overdevelopment in the county to a cancer that will continue to grow simply because residents want to say they live at the beach, and several who said their peace and quality of life are being compromised because of too much development.
Developer plans stormwater improvements
Attorney David Hutt of the Morris James law firm in Georgetown, representing the developer, Linder & Co., testified that the proposal is for 17 buildings containing 200 units, with the entrance off Old Mill Road.
Stormwater management is proposed along Railway Avenue. Across the street, there is a farmhouse and chicken house, which would be removed and replaced with a maintenance building. Older buildings on the property have asbestos in them, but Hutt said it would be abated during removal.
The apartments would be leased annually, with rent ranging from $1,300 to $1,900 monthly, with a maximum of two people per bedroom The number of apartments would be equal to 113 single-family homes, he said.