Lewes Mayor and City Council have approved a preliminary design for a multipurpose site known as the Lewes Gateway, comprising the new Lewes Public Library, a trailhead with amenities, Stango Park and existing library building.
The site would feature passive recreation areas, such as a reading garden, outdoor concert venue, picnic and sitting areas and a labyrinth.
Open space on the parcel might also serve as an alternate location for the Lewes Farmers Market and other community events. The plan also calls for preservation of Stango Park's mature trees.
City officials unanimously chose a design with the understanding that it is subject to revisions after review by regulatory and permitting agencies including the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Delaware Department of Transportation, Sussex Conservation District and City of Lewes.
The gateway plan goal is to establish a site that is attractive, sustainable, features a reduced-maintenance landscape and uses predominantly native plants to provide shade, buffering and seasonal and textural interest.
Matthew Spong, a principal with Landscape Architectural Services LLC and Mark Chura, a principal with Chura & Associates, developed the master plan in coordination with Becker Morgan Group, library architects and engineers.
Using a slide show to describe various elements of the plan, Spong and Chura’s concept received city approval June 10. Chura said approval allows the project to begin seeking grant money.
Lewes Gateway features
The master plan does not include proposed uses for the existing library, although several ideas for the city-owned building have been offered.
The Lewes Public Library Design Committee, citizens and City of Lewes officials will also provide input as the new library building and gateway designs move toward completion.
Plans call for attractive landscaping into the library site along Adams Avenue extended, as well as landscaping along the site adjacent to Freeman highway.
Chura indicated that DelDOT will allow a pedestrian crossing of the track at Adams Avenue extended and at Kings Highway, but not midway between the two roads.
As a result, access between Stango Park and the new library site will be limited to those two locations.
Monroe Avenue would be widened to two 11-foot travel lanes with 5-foot shoulders on both sides.
The parking lot will be designed to minimize pedestrian-vehicle conflict and to accommodate library and trailhead parking needs.
“Please keep in mind, these are only conceptual plans. How parking evolves is yet to be determined,” Chura emphasized.
The conceptual plan has 93 parking spaces for the library and 50 parking spaces for the trailhead.
For planning purposes, the library and trailhead parking spaces are shown as separate areas. But, Chura said, planners foresee parking crossover by library and trailhead users, but they don’t see it as a problem.
Spong said stormwater runoff from the site would be handled using an existing swale that ties into Freeman Highway’s drainage system.
He said a rain garden that would help manage stormwater quantity and quality would be used in the library’s stormwater system.
“You will not see a big waterhole on the site,” Spong said, referring to commonly seen stormwater retention ponds.
State agency’s concern
Chura said Delaware Department of Transportation and has agreed to pay for design, engineering and construction of the trailhead and amenities.
“DelDOT is reviewing costs and other issues about the trailhead’s location,” Chura said.
He said because the railroad tracks run near the trailhead site, DelDOT wants to conduct an environmental study in the area proposed for the trailhead.
DelDOT spokesman Jim Westhoff, in a June 14 email, said as with any old railroad line in the state, there is a potential for soil contamination because of the old practice of dumping coal ash and other substances directly onto or adjacent to the tracks.
Soils will be tested by DNREC, Westhoff said.
“Any necessary remediation, namely removal and/or capping contaminated soils, will be completed during construction,” he said.
The master plan includes a trade of .3-acre on the west end of the city-owned parcel, for about .3-acre of a privately owned adjoining parcel. The trade will provide more useful space for both the gateway project and Jamie Virden, the private landowner,
Gateway site’s eyesores
Although the Lewes Gateway site will have many attractive features, project designers have also noted several drawbacks.
The site is close to residences and increased traffic might cause conflicts, especially during summer, on Kings Highway and Theodore Freeman Highway.
Planners indicate there might be problems meeting regulatory requirements such as parking, stormwater management, emergency vehicle access, ADA accessibility and zoning.
There are also concerns about the costs and safety of two railroad-track crossings; an unattractive view of the back of the existing library building; the view from Freeman Highway of a weed-covered, rusting, chain link fence; and the view of the stormwater drainage system from the corner of Monroe Street and Freeman Highway.
Other eyesores cited are overhead utility lines along the railroad right-of-way; a nearby abandoned outbuilding in poor condition and covered with graffiti; and unattractive trees that are weak, woody, disease-prone and covered with invasive vines.