For the second time, the site plan for the Anthem subdivision off Walker Road near Milton is being debated.
In 2015, it was a request to delete sidewalks, and now residents are questioning how developer Milford Housing Development Corporation could change an approved stormwater management plan in a four-acre section of open space from a dry pond to a wet pond without approval from the county.
Residents of the 151-unit subdivision say the open space is used as a recreational and walking area.
The residents claim under the new plan, the open space cannot be used for recreation. In a recent letter to the editor, Anthem resident Corrine Baker blamed Sussex County officials for allowing the developer to save money by eliminating the original plan for the open space. She claims a deal was made to replace it with “an uneven, wet drainage swale that will have little use to us.”
She said the proposed change in the plan should have been presented to Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission for review. Following a July 29 meeting with county staff, she said, residents were not satisfied with the county's response and will take legal action.
Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson said once a final site plan is approved, the design, approval and inspection of a stormwater management system is coordinated by the Sussex Conservation District.
Lawson said the system has been changed, but that does not fall under county purview. “What the developer has done is above board and has followed the normal steps and processes,” he said. “And we take great offense to the claim that there were backroom deals.”
Lawson said it's not part of the process for county staff to review stormwater management systems or changes to those systems. “Should the county see a change like this? Perhaps. We can look at that,” he said.
The subdivision's final site plan was approved in 2007, then amended in 2015 to allow deletion of sidewalks.
Baker said in 2019, Milford Housing representatives told her the open space would be a dry area where the community could play its Thanksgiving Day football games. In 2021, she said she was told the area would not be flat but would be a dry swale.
Also in 2021, she said, a crew removed a substantial amount of soil from the open space and created a swampy, marshy area. “We were told it was caused by overwatering in the community and a rain garden would be needed,” she said. “We went from a dry, flat area to a wet rain garden.”
Meeting with residents
Because of questions from residents, county officials hosted a meeting July 29 with county administration and planning & zoning, and engineering staff, the developer, Sussex County District 5 Councilman John Rieley, District 3 Councilman Mark Schaeffer and Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commissioner Keller Hopkins.
The area where Anthem is located has been switched from District 3 to District 5 following recent redistricting.
At the meeting, Baker said Hopkins presented the original plan showing a pipe and stormwater infiltration system.
Baker said county staff told her that a code update in 2017 requires substantial changes to site plans be reviewed by the planning & zoning commission. Because Anthem's plan was approved prior to 2017, the regulation did not apply, she was told.
“We do not accept it and will be addressing the situation from a legal standpoint,” Baker said.
Baker said Rieley called her recently and said he was trying to negotiate an alternate plan from what the original plan was replaced with. “I’m open to that, but told him the area needs to be dry. My concern is that any such plan Rieley is working on will be slow-walked until after the election and turn out to be no better than what is currently proposed,” she said.