Residents are concerned about the Department of Transportation's plans for Gills Neck Road in light of recent decisions paving the way for more development on the rural road just outside Lewes.
About 100 people attended a Lewes Historic and Scenic Byways Committee meeting Aug. 12 to preserve the road's slow and scenic character. Residents fear is that with more homes and more residents, the state will widen the road, and its character will be lost.
The Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission recently approved Showfield LLC's plans to build a 166-home community just outside Lewes. The development would have two entrances onto Gills Neck Road. As Showfield gears up, other development continues in many of the other Gills Neck subdivisions, such as Hawkseye and Senators.
“What the challenge is is to improve safety in a context sensitive manner and not lose the character of the area,” said committee chair Gail Van Gilder. “You can make the area very safe, but you won't like what it looks like when it's done because all the roads would be big wide and straight. That's not what brings people to want to come and live in Lewes. We have to work somewhere in the middle.”
The goal of the byway committee is to preserve the character of Lewes' designated byway roads by establishing a management plan that incorporates context-sensitive design tools. With a plan in place, the group can engage DelDOT and the developers in future projects on the designated byway roads – Savannah Road, Kings Highway, New Road, Gills Neck Road, Pilottown Road and Cape Henlopen Drive. The group is continuing work on the plan, but it is not yet approved.
Work is expected to begin in September to soften a sharp turn near the Cadbury community. Plans are also in the works to redesign the Kings Highway-Gills Neck Road intersection.
Some residents are afraid softening the sharp curve will result in faster moving vehicles.
“I hope you can recommend that they put up some speed signs along that road and recommend somebody actually enforces those speeds,” said Cadbury resident Donald Burgess.
Wolfe Point resident Sally Packard said there have been numerous accidents at a second curve near one of the proposed Showfield entrances. A blind turn and faster traffic is a recipe for disaster, she said.
“If you straighten out that first curve, people are going to be headed toward that second curve much faster than they should be, and it is already a problem,” she said. “If there are school buses stopping there, it is going to be a very difficult situation, and if bikers are on that road, God help them.”
Several people in attendance criticized the city of Lewes for promoting Gills Neck Road as a route for bicyclists. Wolfe Run resident Steve Fanto called the wooded, winding section of the road the most dangerous part of town as bicyclists often ride three abreast and motorists try to pass them on blind turns.
The state is in the process of extending the Junction and Breakwater Trail between the Breakwater and Showfield communities and along Kings and Freeman highways to the canal. Officials expect that to alleviate some of the bicycle traffic on Gills Neck.
At the end of the meeting, the committee voted to recommend the byways, including Gills Neck Road, be looked at comprehensively, not piecemeal, as they are currently.
After listening to residents' comments, committee member Dave Ennis said complaints should not be directed at his group, as they are trying to preserve the character of the designated byway through recommendations to the developers and state agencies that make the decisions.
“The state Department of Transportation recognizes [the byways] as an entity and that gives you more voice than all of you together would have had if you were not recognized as a byway,” he said.
Van Gilder said it is important to finish a corridor management plan for the byway so it can be used to dictate future road improvements.
“If you have a plan that you can put forward that seems to solve the problems, then the people we have to through at the county, the state, they will listen,” she said. “If you're just in there saying, 'I hate bikers. Get them off the road.' Then it goes no where. We really have to be constructive in what we do, and that's what we're trying to do.”