Gills Neck Road – once a country road – is quickly becoming a main street for people who want to live near Lewes – but not within city limits.
Plans for a seventh community along the road were presented July 24 to Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission. Jack Lingo Asset Management – as Showfield LLC – has revamped plans for a cluster subdivision along Gills Neck Road, paring down the plans by more than 350 units to 166 lots and reducing the size of the project by 90 acres. The proposed project is on 132 acres of unincorporated land just outside the City of Lewes' eastern border, adjacent to the Breakwater community and across Gills Neck Road from the Wolfe Pointe community.
Planning and zoning commissioners deferred on a vote following the July 24 public hearing.
The project has a history dating back almost 10 years, when it was first proposed before City of Lewes officials as a 607-unit community on 230 acres between Gills Neck Road and Freeman Highway, which would have included the annexation of a 139-acre parcel into city limits. About 90 acres of the original tract closest to the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal is in city limits.
Following more than 50 public meetings with various Lewes boards, committees, the planning commission and council, the developer changed jurisdictions and filed new plans with Sussex County.
Originally, developers planned to build single-family homes, duplexes and quad-homes on lots varying from 6,500 square feet to 19,000 square feet. The city's planning commission granted preliminary approval of the subdivision plans in the fall of 2009, but the project stalled. The new plan calls for single-family homes on lot sizes starting at 13,000 square feet.
The application states that the original plan was tabled because of downward changes in the housing market and the time it would take to secure annexation and site-plan approval by Lewes officials.
Doug Motley, representing Lingo Asset Management, said the developer redesigned the project in 2012 to include 400 homes. But after talks with Lewes officials showed was no progress, the plan was revamped again and presented to Sussex County officials. “The Lewes timelines did not match the developer's timelines,” Motley said.
Motley said there are no current plans to develop the 90 acres of the parcel that lies within Lewes city limits.
“This project is consistent with development on Gills Neck Road over the past 20 years,” said Gene Bayard, the developer's attorney. “Now it's a better project with better design and 50 percent less density with far less traffic impact and a more superior design.”
Becker: Lewes has access concerns
Lewes Mayor Ted Becker said if the project will no longer be considered in city limits, more attention should be given to access points.
“The city remains convinced that this entire parcel if developed should become part of Lewes,” he testified before the commission. “However, any development of the lands outside of the current city limits should require maximum connectivity with the city to ensure the health and safety of residents as well as responders.”
The mayor said there are concerns about entrances to the proposed community. The developer is proposing two entrances along Gills Neck Road.
Becker said an extension of Monroe Avenue on the northwestern edge of the parcel is critical to provide a more direct access for all emergency medical, fire and police responders, as well as a more direct route to Beebe Medical Center. The developer does not have plans to improve the road or connect to it, but a 50-foot easement for possible future connection is included in the proposed plans.
Becker said the two previous plans had four entrances including one along Freeman Highway and an extension of Monroe Avenue across Freeman Highway.
Becker said properties surrounding the proposed Showfield community will be developed in the future and connectivity and access for all parcels should be considered.
Custom homes and large lots
Motley said the homes would be marketed to active adults who would be less likely to have school-age children so the potential effect on school population would be minimal.
Lots in the community would sell for $300,000 to $600,000 with custom-built homes ranging in price from $800,000 to $1.2 million. “This is on par with neighboring communities,” Motley said.
Two existing barns on the parcel are expected to be renovated; one will become a clubhouse in conjunction with the community's pool, he said. The community will have interior trails, sidewalks and access to the Junction and Breakwater Trail.
Motley said building-related revenue generated by build out of the community to Sussex County could approach $2.8 million, including realty transfer taxes, permits and inspection fees.
Minimum lot size would be 13,000 square feet; 44 acres of open space are proposed. The plan includes a 20-foot wooded buffer around the perimeter of the community, a 50-foot buffer near a small section of wetlands and woods and a 50-foot buffer next to farmland.
“The developer will keep the natural features of the parcel in place,” said Doug Warner, an engineer with Element Design Group. “It will be the same look as it is now along Gills Neck Road.”
Under the proposed plan, water would be provided by the Lewes Board of Public Works and sewer would be provided by Sussex County.
Developers will pay for road improvements
A traffic impact study was completed for the original proposal and reviewed by state transportation officials in January 2008. The developer and Delaware Department of Transportation officials are working to finalize road improvements and the cost for the upgrades.
The developer will be required to improve Gills Neck Road on the frontage of the development to include two, 11-foot travel lanes, 5-foot shoulders and a 10-foot pathway. The two entrances to the community are planned along Gills Neck Road; one would line up with the entrance to Wolfe Pointe. A 15-foot right-of-way would be dedicated for a future multimodal path along the road.
A 40-foot easement has been donated to DelDOT by the developer on the southern border of the property to complete an extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail linking Gills Neck Road and Freeman Highway.
The developer may be required to fund a portion of intersection improvements – including a new traffic signal – at Kings Highway and Clay Road; intersection improvements at Kings Highway and Gills Neck Road; and improvements at the Kings Highway and Dartmouth Drive intersection including a possible single-lane roundabout and intersection widening.
Motley said the cost of improvements along Gills Neck Road and Kings Highway would be covered entirely by developers in the area. Among the first projects will be improvement to the Kings Highway-Gills Neck Road intersection – tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2015 – and softening of the sharp curve on Gills Neck Road near the Cadbury and Senators communities, which could take place this year.
“This appears to be an appropriate development, but traffic problems have to be addressed sometime,” said Ronal Smith, who lives on Gills Neck Road. “Traffic in eastern Sussex is horrendous and adding more traffic lights does not make it better.”
Gills Neck is scenic byway
Gail Van Gilder, chairwoman of the Lewes Scenic Byway Committee, reminded the commission that Gills Neck Road is one of only six scenic byways in the state. “We try to retain as much of the existing roadway as possible as development takes place,” she said. “We work with DelDOT and developers on design.”
She said Gills Neck Road is a two-lane, winding country road. “We hope to retain as much of that as possible,” she said.
The committee has a meeting with DelDOT officials this week to discuss Gills Neck Road improvements. She said property values increase along scenic byways. “Developers can use that to their advantage to market home sites,” she said.