Traffic and the environment were the central themes during a standing-room only public hearing over a proposed RV campground near Lewes. The hearing, during the Jan. 24 Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, lasted more than three hours.
Plans to develop a 162-acre campground for RVs, tents and cabins have been submitted to Sussex County officials. Jack Lingo Asset Management has two applications pending for Love Creek RV Resort and Campground, off Cedar Grove Road. Lingo is asking for a conditional use and a zoning change from GR, general-residential district, to AR-1, agricultural residential, for 74 acres of the parcel. If approved, the entire 162-acre parcel would be zoned AR-1, and the conditional-use would cover the entire parcel. Campgrounds are prohibited in GR zones.
More than 100 residents turned out to oppose the project, located along Love Creek. Many who spoke said the size and scope of the project would negatively affect the environment, create a change in traffic trends and would hurt property values in a residential area.
Changes have been made in the plans based on comments from residents, said Nick Hammonds, representing the developer. The biggest change is the removal of an entrance along Ward Road leaving a single entrance off Cedar Grove Road. In addition, the cabins originally planned along Ward Road have been moved to other areas within the park.
The campground would be open from April 1 to Oct. 31 when all RVs would be removed from sites and stored in a designated area within the park or driven off the property. Hammonds said RV parks have been successful in the Cape Region. “There is a demand for more sites; occupancy rates have been high,” he said.
He said the plans are for more seasonal rentals than week and weekend rentals, which would cut down on transient traffic.
Hammonds said the property has been owned by the Townsend family for many years. “It's a property they wanted to develop in the near term,” Hammonds said.
Developers say an RV park would have less impact on the environment and generate less traffic than a residential subdivision. As many as 500 homes could be built on the parcel; 628 camping sites are planned in the RV park.
Gene Bayard, attorney for the developer, said history proves RV parks and residential communities are compatible. He used the former Three Seasons campground near Rehoboth Beach Yacht and Country Club as an example. The campground was sold in 2006 and developed into housing.
He said over the past 25 years, housing units in the area grew from 300 to 900. “RV parks and residential communities can co-exist peacefully and the projects can work together,” he said.
Hammonds said two other area campgrounds – Treasure Beach in the Ocean City area and Holly Lakes near Long Neck – are surrounded by residential development. “There is no negative impact on property values,” Hammonds said.
Mary Schrider-Fox, an attorney representing residents at The Retreat at Love Creek, said the proposed project is out of character with the surrounding area. She called the campground a commercial venture that has little to no benefit to local inhabitants, which is inconsistent with uses provided in county's AR-1 zoning. In addition, she said, the project includes many more amenities than outlined for campgrounds in county code. “It's beyond the scope of a traditional campground,” she said.
Lawrence Lank, director of county planning and zoning, said his department has received nine letters in support of the project and petitions with more than 600 signatures and more than 110 letters in opposition to the project.
Planning and zoning commissioners voted to defer on a recommendation to county council and leave the public record open now and for 15 days after the receipt of Delaware Department of Transportation comments on the applicant's traffic impact study. Council's public hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Comments on the environment
During testimony, the developer's representatives said all wetlands would be protected by buffers ranging from 50 to 100 feet and a minimal number of trees would be cut. Almost all of the campground area is wooded.
A single point of access is planned for canoes and kayaks to launch onto Love Creek. There are no plans for a marina or boat launch.
In addition, developers plan a vegetated buffer around the perimeter of the campground to shield it from the surrounding area. Engineer Michael Wigley said about one-half acre of wetlands would be disturbed. More than 90 acres of the parcel would not be developed.
The parcel would be served by county sewer with individual sewer and water hookups at each RV site. The sites would average more than 3,000 square feet – 1,000 more square feet than required by county code. The minimum setback from any other property would be 400 feet, Wigley said.
Wigley, an engineer with Davis, Bowen and Friedel, said an environmental review of the parcel found no rare of threatened species on state or federal records.
Several speakers disagreed with the applicant's assessment of the environmental impact of the project.
Jason Beale, of the Delaware Nature Society, said contrary to the developer's environmental survey, the parcel is home to two rare species. His findings concur with Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control comments provided on the project during a state-agency review showing the rare Eastern tiger salamander and the barking tree frog live on or adjacent to the parcel. Because of its proximity to Love Creek and wetlands, DNREC officials call the parcel an environmentally sensitive area that should be preserved and not developed.
Henry Glowiak, an Inland Bays Foundation board member, said Love Creek is one of the largest tributaries of the Inland Bays. “This should be a nature preserve. This project is one of the biggest threats to the Inland Bays in a long time. How will they ever recover if developments like these are are approved?” he asked.
William Zak, who lives in the Briarwood community and has been associated with The Center for the Inland Bays, said the headwaters of Love Creek, located near the proposed campground, are one of the last areas where water grasses are still flourishing. “The reason is that the area is buffered by wooded areas,” he said, adding any clearing of trees would hurt the delicate ecosystem.
Zak said he was told by a Realtor when he bought his home near the site that the proposed campground parcel would never be developed. He said the swamp area smells three or four times a month and the flies are nasty May through July. “It's not even a good site and will be abandoned eventually; we'll be left with 162 acres of decimated woodlands,” he said.
Zak's comments prompted Commission President Bob Wheatley to ask him why he chose to live in the area.
David Racine, who lives along Mulberry Knoll Road, said he was involved in the design of the West Rehoboth sewer district. He said because of two decades of heavy development, the district's 50-year capacity plan is on a fast track. “It's a real problem because we are approaching that 50-year plan now,” he said.
Racine said before the county approves any zoning change, proper infrastructure should be in place. “Projects should be denied without roads and infrastructure in place; not just planned,” Racine said.
Comments on traffic
In answer to questions about increased traffic, Hammonds said the RV park would be a destination that would generate much less traffic than a housing project on the parcel, where as many as 500 homes could be built. “When you compare an RV resort to a subdivision with 500 homes, it would generate significantly less traffic,” Hammonds said.
D.J. Hughes, an engineer with Davis, Bowen and Friedel, conducted a traffic impact study for the project. He said from 25 percent to 51 percent less daily traffic would be generated by an RV park compared to a residential development. For example, on a typical Saturday during the season, the RV park would generate 2,475 daily trips while a built-out subdivision would generate more than 5,000 daily trips.
Hughes also explained the developer's plans for road improvements. Those include a new left-turn lane off Cedar Grove Road into the campground with 11-foot travel lanes and 5-foot shoulders on Cedar Grove Road from the entrance of the campground east to the intersection with Plantation Road.
Hughes said improvements would be timed to coordinate with a Delaware Department of Transportation plan to realign the Cedar Grove Road-Postal Lane-Plantation Road intersection. That work is expected to begin in the spring of 2013 and take one year to complete.
In response, attorney Fox said the traffic would be different than what is currently experienced in the area. “There will be people coming and going from the campground, and there will be more traffic than anticipated by the applicant.”
Paul Hammesfahr, president of The Retreat at Love Creek Homeowners Association, said most people in his community and the surrounding area are overwhelming opposed to the project. He said there would be impact on traffic from large RVs on narrow roads. “And not all traffic will be coming from the east,” he said.
Road improvements are planned from the RV park eastward. No road improvements are planned west of the RV park entrance, Route 24 or Mulberry Knoll Road, all roads expected campers could use, several people testified.
Charlie Tinacci, a resident of The Retreat at Love Creek, said the area around the proposed campgrounds is already a pinch point. He said another 600 to 1,200 cars, up to 450 RVs and another 1,200 to 2,400 people is more than the area can handle. “For perspective, Lewes' population is under 2,800,” he said. “There will be more traffic, bottlenecks, accidents and gridlock.”
Tinacci echoed what several other speakers said when he talked about the applicant's plans for the campground to be a destination. “They will come for our beaches, restaurants, shopping and entertainment. There is not enough at Love Creek to keep 2,400 people entertained,” he said.
“A lot of details are missing This is being portrayed as a closed ecosystem, but we believe that is not the case,” said Dick Snyder, a resident of The Retreat at Love Creek.
“This is the second or third proposal that could change the character of our county to an RV haven,” said Mable Granke of Rehoboth Beach. “You need to look at what this means to our future and look at the big picture of what our future needs to be.”
Proposed project contains 620 camping sites
Included on the site plan filed with the county's planning and zoning department are 628 camping sites, including 516 for recreational vehicles, 30 for tents and another 82 sites for rental cabins. Within the resort, plans call for an amphitheater/chapel, welcome center, fitness center, laundry, clubhouse, general store, several pavilions and paddle boat launches, canoe outfitter, pumping station, swimming ponds, pools and RV storage. Water, sewer and electricity would be provided to each RV site. Premium RV sites would be available closer to Love Creek access. A small bar is planned for the water access area.
The parcel would be served by Sussex County central sewer; the developer would cover all connection fees, including the costs of a pump station. Water would be provided by Tidewater Utilities.
Access would be off Cedar Grove Road with a gated entrance and welcome center, said engineer Michael Wigley of Davis, Bowen and Friedel. Security would be provided 24 hours a day.
The campground would be open April 1 to Oct. 31 when all RVs would be required to be moved to an on-site storage area or driven off the property.