Following nearly five hours of testimony last week — all from those opposed to a proposed project to build 200 apartments at the intersection of Railway and Old Mill roads near Ocean View and Millville, the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission deferred making a recommendation until the P&Z’s Thursday, April 8, meeting.
Once made and announced, that recommendation will be sent to the Sussex County Council, whose members will make the final decision on whether to grant a conditional use permit in a General Residential District.
P&Z commissioners listened to reasons offered as to why the apartments shouldn’t be built, in testimony that ran from 6 p.m. until nearly 11 p.m. at the Thursday, March 25, P&Z meeting, but no one commenting spoke in favor.
One woman compared what she called 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 others asked if anyone had thought about what will happen to the wildlife that will be displaced because of the development.
More than 650 letters of opposition were received, although some appeared to be duplicates.
Another woman said she sits in her back yard, seeking peace and solitude, but that it will vanish if the project is approved. Another wondered if new apartment dwellers will host parties, disturbing nearby home owners.
Tom Goglia, representing the Evans Farm Watch Group, was at the meeting, which was held at Delaware Technical Community College — a more spacious venue than usual, to allow social distancing. Several others from the Watch Group also spoke, saying their mission is to protect, maintain and enhance the quality of life in the community.
“It’s the wrong development in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Goglia asserted, asking about the impact on the character of the community, overcrowding, public safety and stress on an infrastructure he said is already struggling to serve residents.
Traffic is heavy now, he said, and when beach traffic arrives this summer, drivers will sit at some intersections for five traffic light cycles before being able to turn, he said.
He characterized the Delaware Department of Transportation as having “a myopic view” of traffic congestion, because, he said, DelDOT officials look only at a particular development but fail to recognize the overall impact on surrounding roads and the community. DelDOT might call the area urban, he said, but if that were true, there would be walkability and public transportation, he argued.
“These are rural roads. These are not city roads,” Goglia said.
His supporters began to applaud, but P&Z Commission Chairman Robert Wheatley banged the gavel and said sternly, “Absolutely not. We don’t have applause. It isn’t needed, so don’t do that.”
Opponents concerned about traffic, pollution, stormwater
Several weeks ago, Goglia had told the Coastal Point that the Bay Forest residential community, where he lives and which is near the proposed development, has about 900 homes.
“They are proposing to build apartment units in a neighborhood that is largely two-story, individual homes. It sits in the middle of everything, and it will create traffic, pollution, stormwater issues,” Goglia said.
The proposed development is 90 feet from Goglia’s home.
“It’s in my back yard, but that’s not the reason I’m opposed. There are major issues associated with it. It will add 400 more cars to the area, kids going to school,” he said.
Among his concerns is that Railway and Old Mill roads — neither built with shoulders — have high traffic volumes and that a 2008 DelDOT review of the project (it was proposed once before but time lapsed before it could be approved) had stated it would cause the roads to drop below service levels that are acceptable.
“There are a lot of bicyclists, pedestrians in that area. Railway has the same situation. Clubhouse Road there is the same situation,” he said.
Marty Lampner, president of the White’s Creek Manor Homeowners’ Association, told commissioners that residents of Bay Forest hadn’t had reason to believe there would ever be an apartment complex nearby when they had bought their homes, and he said it will likely impact property values.
Chris Falvetto said she and her husband had lived in South Bethany, but because it was so congested there, they moved to Bay Forest in 2009. But, she said, the quality of life she loved is changing because of “massive development.”
If this development is approved, a 15-car garage “that looks like a chicken house” will be right out her back door, she asserted.
“It’s not what we signed up for, and I think what is important here to understand is you have a lot of people who live here because they choose to. … At some point, I believe a tipping point is going to be reached. There is going to be so much congestion,” she said.
Now, she said, she and her husband are considering selling their property.
“We are here because we love it. We have a choice to make, and that is are you going to keep writing the checks for this as you see more congestion? Are you going to keep writing the checks for that second home when you think about all the traffic, all the congestion, all the problems that there are? So please think about that. It makes me worry about property values,” she said to commissioners.
A Club House Road resident said traffic is constant in the area and that motorists speed. She is not allowed to erect a fence because of setback requirements, she said, so she and her family don’t spend time in front of their home. She added that she worries about overdevelopment. She asked if anyone has considered how an increase the population will affect crowding in area schools and if anyone had considered Internet connections and how poor connections affect children taking online classes.
Another Ocean View resident asked commissioners to notice that no one had spoken in favor of the project, while opponents listed many reasons not to approve it. He said that if it’s approved, the area will need more firefighters and police officers, and the sewer plant will bear a greater burden.
Wheatley said he has been a member of the commission since 1994 and assured those at the public hearing that decisions aren’t made based on what commission members like, but on County ordinances. Anyone wondering if there is a clear-cut plan for the County will see there certainly is if they read its Comprehensive Plan, he said.
“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it,” another opponent said.
Applicant addresses concerns about project
Before opponents spoke, Attorney David Hutt David of the Morris James law firm in Georgetown — representing Linder & Company, the applicant for the project and previously the developer of the Bethany Bay community down the road — had said the applicant was surprised by the volume of opposition, because the project was applied for once before, a few years ago, and this plan is identical to that one. He said there had been a meeting between neighbors and representatives of the company and adjustments made to address concerns.
Among misperceptions, he said, is that a high density is planned.
The proposal is for 17 buildings containing 200 units, with the entrance off Old Mill Road, he said. A looped parking lot would connect all buildings. There would be a large area in the middle of the buildings that is undeveloped and an interior sidewalk for residents to have a large area to walk and participate in activities, as well as a traditional sidewalk on the outside.
Single-story garages would be across the street, so every unit would have a garage.
There is a proposed 30-foot landscape buffer around the perimeter and 3.6 acres of wooded wetlands that would remain undisturbed and be part of that buffer, Hutt said.
Stormwater management is proposed along Railway Avenue. Across the street, there is a farmhouse and chicken coop, which would be removed and replaced with a maintenance building. The older buildings have asbestos, but Hutt said it would be abated during removal.
He said opponents have criticized apartments in the area as though those who live in apartments are inferior, although most people have lived in an apartment at some time. He said sound land-use planning indicates there should be mixed housing types in the county.
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.