Proposed music venue hits roadblocks

Planning commission, DelDOT urge Sussex to deny application
August 12, 2014

A music venue proposed for a large farm near Harbeson has hit two roadblocks. Both state and county officials say applicant Alex Pires has failed to provide enough information.

At its Aug. 7 meeting, Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1 to recommend denial of a conditional-use application filed by Alex Pires representing Cool Spring LLC/Highway One for outdoor entertainment events with temporary camping on 500 acres of farmland.

On Aug. 8, Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt urged county council to deny the application based on several factors: lack of a parking plan, the condition of area roadways, a the major increase of traffic on rural roads and the lack of nearby major roads for access to the event, among others.

Dewey Beach businessman Pires has plans to hold two country music festivals on back-to-back weekends in August 2015 on part of a 1,000-acre farm he has leased from the Baker family. During testimony at two public hearings, Pires said he also has an agreement to stage his events at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington if his application is denied in Sussex County.

County council will take the commission's recommendation under consideration at its Tuesday, Aug. 12, when a vote could be taken. Council has the final say on conditional-use applications.

In making a motion to recommend denial, Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commissioner Mike Johnson said the applicant's presentation during the planning and zoning public hearing lacked sufficient detail. "There is not enough information to determine if this is an appropriate use," he said. "This may benefit Sussex County, but a determination cannot be made on the record presented."

Johnson said a preliminary site plan from an engineer or surveyor was required designating camping and parking spaces, as well as the rest of the layout on the 500-acre site.

The applicant submitted a preliminary site plan to county council during a second public hearing.

“There were few details offered to explain how this application would conform with the county's land-use plan,” Johnson said. “There is not a lot of information available to the public or planning and zoning.”

Commission Chairman Bob Wheatley said it's possible that council heard a different presentation with more detail. “We have to vote on just what we saw and our record. Council could reach a different conclusion,” he said.

Commissioner Rodney Smith cast the lone vote against denial. “I'm disappointed there is so little record to work with, but I look at the glass as half full,” he said. “We can come up with conditions to make this an acceptable project to benefit the county.”

DelDOT: Deny the application

Bhatt said the proposed events would have major impacts on the surrounding transportation infrastructure and communities.

DelDOT has based its recommendation for denial on the following:

• The events are scheduled in early August, which is the busiest part of the summer travel season. The additional traffic from the music events could impact major beach routes, which are already over capacity on weekends. Any detours to other roadways could further cause delays and traffic issues for local residents, Bhatt wrote.

• According to DelDOT, traffic control for this event would require a large allocation of resources because numerous intersections would have to be manned with personnel to control and direct traffic. Some roadways would have to be closed except to local traffic. DelDOT officials also said because of the limited space along many roadways in the area, the placement of digital message boards would be difficult, if not impossible.

• Traffic delays at the field entrances could inhibit access to surrounding homes and two subdivisions.

• Bhatt wrote, to DelDOT's knowledge, the organizer has not discussed plans with emergency response agencies. “Events of this size are usually planned with all response agencies, including DelDOT, and a buy-in must occur between all agencies to ensure a safe event for participants and surrounding communities,” Bhatt wrote.

• With 20,000 attendees, the average daily traffic volume in the area would be double at more than 5,000 vehicles per day; Avalon and Lawson roads – proposed as entrance roads – have average traffic counts of about 300 vehicles per day.

• The main entrance of the parcel is 12 miles from the nearest major roads – Route 113 and Route 1. Vehicles would be required to travel on several roads – including Route 9, Route 5, Hurdle Ditch Road and Hollyville Road – to the entrance.

• Bhatt said there has been no discussion about the organizer's plan for parking and how attendees will check in. “This process can lead to major delays on the state's roadway system if not handled appropriately and if enough queuing lanes are not provided,” Bhatt wrote.

• Avalon and Lawson roads are tar-and-chip roadways that are 19 feet wide. The roads are anticipated to be used for artist, production access and daily parking. “Should an incident occur along along or adjacent to one of these roadways, emergency response would be difficult, especially with queued traffic as there would be very little room to pass,” Bhatt wrote.

“Should council disagree with our recommendation, we respectively request that the approval be held and the applicant be required to meet with DelDOT, the emergency response agencies and Sussex County Council representatives to further plan this event and allow us to gain more information and develop preliminary plans for managing this type of an event at this location,” Bhatt wrote.