Developers of a proposed residential planned community along Route 24 will have to wait a few more weeks to see if Sussex County officials will approve the project.
Planning and zoning commissioners are expected to make a recommendation during their Thursday, March 27 meeting. That recommendation will be forwarded to county council for final action.
Council conducted a public hearing March 18 on the rezoning application filed by Seaside Communities LLC for a 115-lot cluster subdivision on 37.5 acres at the current site of Winswept Stables. Developer Dan McGreevy is seeking a change from AR-1, agricultural-residential, zoning to MR-RPC, medium density, residential planned community zoning.
The RPC overlay allows for more density than the two units to one acre permitted in AR-1 zoning with more than 150 units permitted. The project's proposed 115 units is 3.3 units per acre with 15 acres of open space, said Jason Palkewicz, engineer with Solutions IPEM.
Frank Kea, CEO of Solutions IPEM, said the project would include single-family homes developed under a condominium format to maintain uniformity in landscaping, yards and streets. He said the developers have built several other subdivisions similar to the one planned for the Winswept parcel, including Nassau Grove near Lewes.
Two other projects are proposed for the area, including a new Delaware State Police Troop 7 north of the parcel and a proposed new Cape Henlopen School District elementary school northeast of the parcel.
About 4.5 acres of the parcel is woods and wetlands with no disturbance of wetlands and minimal tree cutting, said Ed Launey of Environmental Resources Inc.
Traffic consultant Derrick Kennedy said the developers would be asked to contribute a portion of $3 million of the state's share of a $15.4 million DelDOT plan to improve Route 24 between Love Creek Bridge and Route 1. The state's share represents 20 percent of total costs, with the federal government providing the remaining 80 percent of funding.
Improvements in two phases include widening, turn lanes and a continuous center left-hand turn lane from the Warrington Road intersection to Route 1. Kennedy said a traffic signal at the Mulberry Knoll intersection is not currently planned. He said passage of the April 2 referendum for a new elementary school along Route 24 could influence DelDOT's decision about the signal.
Improvements are also scheduled at the Mulberry Knoll intersection to provide left-hand turn lanes from both directions. In addition, the developer would be required to provide an entrance off Route 24, allowing space for a pedestrian/bicycle path, marked bike lanes and bus stops on both sides of the road.
The community would have central water provided by Tidewater Utilities and be connected to the county central sewer system. A 20-foot, landscaped buffer around the perimeter of the property is among plans that include a picnic area, playgrounds, pool and clubhouse in the area where Winswept's barn is currently located. Buffers from 30 to 50 feet would be provided to protect wetlands.
Gene Bayard, the applicant's attorney, said the project would be consistent with other housing in the area. He also said there is a high demand in the Cape Region for this type of housing.
And, he said, for the first time in his 40 years of presenting applications to Sussex officials, DelDOT commented that the project was situated so that it would contribute to the quality of life to residents and that the proposed project was consistent with the county's comprehensive land-use plan.
During the public comment period, Henry Glowiak of Lewes, disagreed with the endorsement. “I'm not a big fan of the county's land-use plan because it's a recipe for sprawl, but in this case it should be followed. The parcel should remain with its current AR-1 zoning,” he said.
He said upzoning should only be granted when a hardship is presented. “This upzone is profit driven. It should be taken very seriously especially since its in an environmentally sensitive area close to the Inland Bays,” he said.
James Schneider, a resident of nearby Hart's Landing, voiced his concerns about traffic along Route 24. He said he wasn't opposed to growth and not against the project if traffic issues were properly addressed. Schneider said the proposed road work does not go far enough. “Our quality of life is already impacted by the amount of traffic on Route 24,” he said. “We need a plan for the future and not a look at projects one at a time. We need to develop infrastructure to meet expected growth.”
He said he had been asked during the planning and zoning commission meeting what influence he thought Sussex officials had on transportation projects. He was then told that he had about as much influence as county officials.
“The influence you could have is to deny zoning changes that add to traffic problems. You could cite safety concerns as your reason for denying applications,” he said. “Perhaps that would get the state's and DelDOT's attention and even get developers to petition DelDOT to improve our roads.”
If the application is approved and the land is sold, Winswept Stables owner Dawn Beach said she plans to reopen the stables in a different Cape Region location. She has operated Winswept for more than 20 years and has been in the current location along Route 24 for 15 years. She said she will continue with classes and camps this spring and summer.