Lewes’ proposed Highland Heights raises questions

Plans call for new homes in wooded area of city
August 27, 2013

Lewes Planning Commission heard more than an earful from the public about Highland Heights, a proposed 34 single-family home development that could be constructed on an 18.5-acre parcel between West Fourth Street and Seagull Drive.

“This is the most people we’ve had in a very long time,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Kay Carnahan said to the standing-room-only audience that packed council chambers Aug. 21.

“I’d like for this to be a conversation,” Carnahan said, laying out a few rules for a meeting that would run for nearly three hours.

Landscape architect Eric Wahl and civil engineer David Kuklish, both of Element Design Group, presented the project.

“We could get up to 80 units in, but we’re only proposing 34,” Wahl said, showing a slide illustrating the layout.

He said under the city’s R-2, low-density zoning, lots would have an area of  10,000 square feet.

Wahl said 1.7 acres of wetlands on the site would remain untouched, and the only trees that would be removed are those where roadway and residences would be built. Wahl said 33 percent of the site would be open space.

As proposed, Highland Heights would have 14 homes in a westside section and 30 homes in an eastside section.

Each section would have a single entrance and exit; the two streets would not connect and would terminate in cul-de-sacs.

Westside access would be via Seagull Drive, and eastside access would be via West Fourth Street.

Wahl and Kuklish said not connecting the streets would mean fewer trees would be removed and less impervious surface would be needed, resulting in less stormwater runoff.

The Highland Acre tax ditch that runs along the northern and western edge of the site would be used to convey stormwater runoff.

Kuklish said the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control received court approval to reduce the ditch width from 80 feet to 25 feet because the added width is unnecessary.

The ditch would convey water into an 8-inch pipe and then into a 24-inch pipe that flows into a catch basin. The catch basin flows into Canary Creek.

Joe Stormer, a Seagull Drive homeowner and volunteer manager of the Highland tax ditch, said that while the project plans to use the ditch for its stormwater runoff, they didn’t have the courtesy to tell him.

“We apologize for that,” Wahl said.

Stormer said the city and Lewes Board of Public Works have shirked their responsibility of lending assistance with ditch maintenance.

“The city hasn’t shown any propensity to manage and has not effectively managed anything. They had an opportunity to fix it, and they screwed it up,” Stormer said, talking about a long-standing pipe problem. Shipcarpenter Street homeowner Bob Dillman said the site’s land is marginal. “That’s why no one has done anything with it,” he said. This area is prone to flooding,” Dillman said, speaking as an old geologist.

Commissioner Barbara Vaughan said “One of the joys in my life is to ride my trike through that area where tree shade makes it 10 degrees cooler."

“The intent is to save as many trees as possible,” Kuklish said.

Cindy Foster, a Seagull Drive homeowner said the developer of Pilottown Reserve also said trees would not be removed.

“You know what they did? They cut down the trees. No one holds their feet to the fire,” she said about promises to keep trees.

“What are you going to do about the animals you’re going to displace?” someone asked.

“They don’t care about that,” came a comment from the crowd.

“Well, they should.”

Several area homeowners said they already have problems with deer, and they’re also concerned about roaming foxes, rabies and tick-transmitted diseases.

Ann Nolan, a Blue Heron Drive homeowner, said that when she bought her house she was told nothing would ever be done with the land where Highland Heights is now proposed.

Lee Ann Wilkinson, a Realtor with Prudential Gallo, suggested that maybe people should organize and buy the property as they did to purchase Canalfront Park’s land. There were rumblings of support for the idea throughout the audience.

Planning commission attorney Michael J. Hoffman said the meeting was not a public hearing, but a hearing could be held.

Hoffman said this meeting was to provide a broad overview of what the developers have designed.

Planning commissioner Nina Cannata said loss of the wooded area would be painful.

“This one breaks my heart,” she said.

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