Raley doesn't like DelDOT messing with his 40-year vision

Bob Raley, who owns the land on which these Vineyards buildings are being constructed, says the existing entrances are adequate and permitted, and DelDOT shouldn't be standing in the way of an occupancy permit. BY DENNIS FORNEY
January 25, 2013

You could say that Bob Raley thinks ahead. And he thinks big. Forty years ago, when he was 42, Raley applied to Delaware's State Highway Department for entrance permits for a proposed mall on the 100 or so acres of Nassau land fronting on Route 9 that he bought from Charles Mills. The mall he proposed would have 935,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 parking spaces. He didn't have to worry about a commercial rezoning. When Sussex County first instituted zoning in the 1960s, Raley made sure his newly acquired parcel was stamped commercial on the county's original zoning maps.

Lawrence Klepner reviewed those mall plans for the highway department. In a Sept. 6, 1972 memo, Klepner wrote that the proposed mall would qualify as a regional shopping center and didn't appear appropriate for its location. “It would be larger than any shopping center yet constructed in the state of Delaware.” Klepner questioned the economic sustainability of the mall, especially since the population of Sussex County in the 1970 census was 80,356 people.

Little did he know that Raley, when he asked for entrance permits to serve the proposed mall, was looking ahead several decades when the Sussex population was nearing 200,000 and there was plenty more growth on the horizon. In October 1972, Raley received a permit for entrances to his property from the Nassau Bridge access road and from Route 18, now known as the Lewes-Georgetown Highway. Of course, the mall Raley envisioned was never built, but he has leased 80-some acres of the land to a New Jersey holding company that is completing the second of two mixed-use buildings - retail and residential - on the property and would like to build more.

Raley said recently Delaware's Department of Transportation is not honoring the 1972 entrance permits and is holding up an occupancy permit for the recently completed building. A November 2012 letter to Raley from DelDOT acknowledges the 1972 permit for Raley's Nassau Commons project, but said new development plans require an updated entrance plan approval and entrance permit. Subdivision engineer Todd Sammons noted that the New Jersey firm involved in development of the project has retained an engineering firm and a land prep firm to develop the updated entrance plans which will be reviewed by the state. “This is to ensure that the approved entrances for the site will be built safely, adequately and accommodate the traffic type and volumes that will result from the proposed development.”

Raley said the New Jersey firm - Fernmoor Holdings at Vineyards DE - is not planning to develop anything more intensive than what he proposed 40 years ago.

He said the state should honor the original permit and not stand between Fernmoor and Sussex County, which issues occupancy permits. “This is holding up construction jobs,” said Raley in a meeting recently with newly elected state Sen. Ernie Lopez. He asked Lopez to intervene so Sussex can issue an occupancy permit recognizing the adequacy of the existing entrance to the two buildings he says was authorized in 1971.

He understands that the parallel effort is under way to meet DelDOT's request but doesn't agree it is needed. In Delaware, you never know what kind of logjams can be cleared by applying the proper amount of political pressure. Some may say Raley's been drinking too much of the wine produced in his family's Nassau Valley Vineyards, but he's really more of a rum drinker, so that's not what's at work.

His vineyard vision took only about five years to come, literally, to fruition. That's child's play compared to a 40-year plan that he's been cultivating in his mind for those decades. Now he's just leaning a little harder. Stay tuned.

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