Lewes has charged its new planning consultant firm with its first priority task: find a solution for issues in the marine-commercial district.
Proposed developments Harbor Point and Highland Heights were also among the top issues, but officials Aug. 11 could not narrow down the planner's tasks with each project. Instead, they voted unanimously to schedule a meeting with ERM staff to go over various issues, ranging from the subdivisions to other pressing concerns, such as the Lingo Townsend shopping center.
With $50,000 budgeted for the consultant, Mayor Ted Becker said, the city should limit itself to only three tasks for now.
“This is a new relationship,” he said. “I think most people would prefer to walk into a relationship rather than drive a locomotive into it.”
Gail Van Gilder, chair of the city's historic and scenic byways committee, said she often works with a planner for the ongoing byways plan and knows from experience that they aren't cheap. She wondered if it is wise to spend money to bring ERM staff to Lewes for a meeting.
“I think we really have to be cognizant of what we're doing here,” she said. “Just to have them come here and have a meeting with everybody to discuss our issues is going to cost you thousands of dollars. It's not going to be for free. Is that the way you want to spend our money?”
She also warned that $50,000 is not a lot of money for the kind of work ERM will be doing.
“It could cost us $50,000 for marine commercial depending on how far you want to go with it,” she said.
Sending the marine-commercial zoning issue to ERM was the only project council and the audience in council chambers unanimously agreed upon. At its July meeting, the planning commission also voted to ask council to send the zoning issue to the new planner.
“I think certainly marine commercial is very high importance for us, particularly what to do with the zoning and what to do with Savannah Road on Lewes Beach to make it more attractive to businesses and residential,” said Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait.
Issues with the marine-commercial district arose last year when two developers used a special exception in city code to apply for townhouse projects. Before the special exception was in place, developers who built residential units in the district were required to put commercial space on the ground level.
Some council members and residents were concerned the special exception for townhouses would change the character of the marine commercial district, so they placed a moratorium on accepting applications for special exceptions until November.
All council members agreed the planner should be used to work on concerns with Highland Heights and Harbor Point, but each proposed development presents very broad questions. Some wondered if having ERM work on more specific issues, like hydrology, would be a better route to take.
Planning commission chairman Mike Mahaffie said a meeting with ERM is a good idea.
“If we sat down with these folks and talked about the things we need to deal with and what our worries are, there might be a good discussion, a good back and forth that leads us into what some of the projects are,” he said.
Resident John Mateyko agreed.
“There's no question that's the right thing to do,” he said. “Let the professionals talk to you about how they can partition this and that.”
Resident Maryanne Ennis worries the budgeted amount will not be enough for all the help Lewes needs.
“You could give that to a company and they could dole out this little job to this person and this little job to that person and that $50,000 could be gone in a week,” she said. “I'm thinking about the budget. I don't think that's very much money for all the things we're talking about here.”
Becker said it has already been decided that city council may increase the budgeted amount for planner services at its discretion.
Concerns about Lingo Townsend project
With the news that L.T. Associates LLC is working to submit a new plan for the Townsend Village Centre just outside Lewes, mayor and city council say they want to get involved early to ensure they have a say in the final decision.
When discussing tasks for the city's new planning firm, Councilman Dennis Reardon suggested using the planning consultant to analyze the proposed shopping center plan.
“That's going to have a tremendous impact on the city of Lewes, economically and in terms of traffic,” he said. “We're going to have to deal with the planning and zoning of the county and county council. I think we really need to have our ducks in a row and have professional help in dealing with that issue.”
L.T. Associates was recently granted a stay in federal court through May 28, 2015, to allow time to develop and submit a new land-use plan application to be presented to Sussex County officials.
City council did not vote to dedicate services to the Lingo Townsend project, but the issue will be discussed at an upcoming meeting with the new planning consultant, Environmental Resources Management.
Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said that while the shopping center is a big issue, so are the proposed Highland Heights and Harbor Point subdivisions. And since the city has no standing with the county at this time, she said, it may be wiser to use the consultant on issues the city can control now.
“I certainly agree there is a role for the planner, but I am a little hesitant to lead with the planner instead of leading with a political initiative,” she said. “We can't bring our planner to the table until we have a seat at the table.”
Resident Nadine Wick said without help from a planner, the shopping center will likely be approved.
“We can't be reactive. We have to be proactive,” she said. “We have to be there at the table when it starts coming up. If this is the same county council we had, we're going to lose, and we're going to have a shopping center. I have no doubt about it.”