Proposed Harbor Point development draws questions

Lot size, flooding among residents' concerns
June 3, 2014

Many Lewes residents turned out for a hearing on the proposed Harbor Point subdivision to urge officials to thoroughly analyze the developer's application and use the city's comprehensive plan when making decisions.

Representatives from developer Jack Lingo Assets Management presented their case for preliminary consent at a planning commission public hearing May 28.

Harbor Point is a 69-lot subdivision proposed for a 108.75-acre parcel next to the Canary Creek community off the new Park Road. The property is not within city limits, but it is in the early stages of annexation.

Jack Lingo Assets originally submitted a plan to Sussex County with the intention to annex into Lewes upon completion, but Lewes officials want the subdivision to go through the city's approval process.

“I believe we have put forth a very responsible and comprehensive application, and I think it addresses many of the concerns that have come out throughout this process,” said Nick Hammonds, principal at Jack Lingo Assets Management.

Many residents disagreed, packing into Lewes library's second-floor conference room to put their concerns on record. As required by Lewes city code, the planning commission must look at 22 factors before approving a new subdivision. Some residents used those factors to make their case.

A few pointed to the city's comprehensive plan, which calls for larger lots of 2 to 10 acres, in the Harbor Point area. When the developer submitted its plan with the county, it was seeking AR-1 zoning classification, which requires larger lots. It is now seeking R-3 beach zoning, which allows building on as small as 5,000 square feet. During his presentation to the planning commission, Hammonds said, the smallest lots in Harbor Point would be about 8,250 square feet.

That assertion did not satisfy all residents.

“Being a very jaded person from New Castle County, Del., we find that that doesn't usually happen,” said Maryanne Ennis. “We've had nursing homes and churches say they're going to do this development and describe it beautifully, then two days after the rezoning is done that property is sold.”

By approving zoning with smaller lots, Ennis worries what could happen if the developer changed or the property is sold.

The annexation committee formed to look at Harbor Point recommended R-3 or R-4 zoning. Neighboring Canary Creek is zoned R-5 mixed residential.

Ennis also objected to changing the comprehensive plan.

“I think the city is setting very dangerous precedent,” she said. “No. 1 is the ability to change the comprehensive plan at the whim of a developer.”

Resident Jerry Lechliter said the city must make sure it does things in the proper order or it might end up in court. He pointed to 2006 court case O'Neill v. Town of Middletown, where Vice Chancellor John Noble reversed a rezoning because town council did not change the comprehensive plan before moving forward.

Noble's ruling states, “The town could have chosen sooner to amend its comprehensive plan to accommodate the changed circumstances. It did not do so before the rezoning, and the Court must measure the rezoning against the comprehensive plan in effect at the time of the rezoning, even though obviously outdated but one still carrying the force of law.”

“This is, by analogy, what you're doing here,” Lechliter said. “This is the same thing.”

Hammonds expects up to seven models of homes will be offered with a pricetag in the mid $600,000s. He suspects the development will appeal to retirees and families seeking second homes. Because of the targeted demographics, he says the development will have no affect on area schools.

Resident Ric Moore asked if Lewes wants to continue targeting an older population.

“Is that necessarily a good thing?” he said. “Shouldn't we be targeting and trying to bring in a younger demographic to actually have the investment in human capital that schools represent? Because how else will the economy of Lewes grow in the future?”

Moore also pointed to the subdivision's proximity to the Great Marsh and potential flooding concerns.

Ring Lardner, principal and professional engineer with Davis, Bowen and Friedel, said the upland area of the proposed development location is 38.25 acres. He said the state's two-foot contour maps show the elevation of Harbor Point is equal to the rest of Lewes, although some areas will lie within the 100-year floodplain. Homes in those areas will exceed minimum requirements, he said.

While flooding may not occur in Harbor Point, resident Janice Pinto said she's concerned more development upstream will funnel more water down to her home.

“Our worry is not with the canal, not with the bay. It's the marsh,” she said. “When you put your home up there and the rains come, that's all coming down and it's coming down to the existing homes.”

In the developer's latest PLUS review with state planning officials, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control listed sea-level rise as a point of concern.

Lardner said sea level rise is a city-wide issue and should not impact the approval process for Harbor Point.

“Sea-level rise and global warming is a topic of great debate and unknowns,” he said. “Sea-level rise will not only affect this project, but all of the city of Lewes. There are no local, state or federal regulations regarding sea-level rise and the design conditions thereof. Furthermore, Harbor Point is located 5,000 feet from the Atlantic Ocean.”

The site of Harbor Point has a long history. Originally owned by the Ritter family, it was purchased in 1965 by the Hercules Powder Company. Hercules planned to construct plants to produce gun powder, but the company was stymied by the Coastal Zone Act in 1971. The property was conveyed to Hercules' real estate subsidiary East Bay Realty, who eventually sold it to Sussex County in 1992. The county wanted to use the land for a regional wastewater treatment facility and spray irrigation; however, DNREC rejected the property for spray irrigation because the soil was too porous and sandy. Current owner J.G. Townsend bought it from the county hands in 1994.

The entire tract of land was originally 635 acres. In April, the land was subdivided to create the 108-acre parcel for Harbor Point.

While not part of the Harbor Point project, many Lewes residents want to know what's in store for the remaining 527 acres, specifically if the city chooses to amend its comprehensive plan and rezone the property to R-3.

“Amending the comprehensive plan to R-3, in my mind, is tantamount to opening Pandora's box,” said resident Seth Price. “It's going to set a precedent which threatens this remaining acreage of environmentally sensitive land surrounding Lewes.”

Commission Chairman Mike Mahafie announced the official record will remain open until end of business Friday, June 6. Those wishing to add to the record should do so by contacting City Manager Paul Eckrich at Lewes City Hall at 302-645-7777.