Donovan Smith dominates Lewes planning meeting

Commission makes open space recommendation after ‘frustrating’ discussion
July 25, 2023

Frustration and confusion were two words often used by members of the Lewes Planning Commission at their July 19 meeting when discussing how to resolve code issues in Donovan Smith Manufactured Home Park.

The city annexed Donovan Smith last year after years of complaints from residents about poor living conditions, including leaking septic tanks. But now, the city has a code that does not match the park property.

A new ordinance needs to be in place before a conditional-use application is granted to bring the community up to the current code. Adding urgency is the fact that no new manufactured homes can be placed in the park until a conditional use is granted and a site plan is approved. As an example, even if a home is destroyed by fire, it cannot be rebuilt under the current code because there is no conditional use in place. 

After more than an hour of debate, commissioners voted 4-3 to recommend an amended city ordinance on manufactured homes to require three-quarters of an acre of open space. Mayor and city council had asked the commission to consider changes to terminology in the ordinance regarding open space, setbacks and lot coverage. Chair Nancy Staisey said the Lewes Fire Department reviewed the reduction of setbacks and had no issue with regard to fire safety.  

The changes to the ordinance would apply to Donovan Smith or any manufactured homes within city limits. 

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years and this is as odd as it gets,” said commission attorney Max Walton.

The commissioners echoed his frustration, especially with the fact that owner Ken Burnham has never come before the city to make any requests to help residents. Staisey said they legally cannot force Burnham to attend meetings. But Commissioner Amy Marasco said the panel should consider recommending that city council require him to come forward because there is concern. 

Commissioners also expressed frustration at what they called a lack of information about the changes they have to make. “Right now, we don’t have maps, we have guesses,” said Commissioner Bill Davis.

Commissioner Bob Heffernan proposed scrapping the current process altogether. Instead, he said, there should be a panel made up of Burnham and state and city stakeholders that would work out a solution.

“I have a dream, to borrow a line, that by the time the sewer and water is in, there will be a really good resolution for the residents and the City of Lewes,” said Heffernan.

The deadline for that work to be finished is Nov. 7, 2024.

But other commissioners said the current process needs to play out, even though it may seem it is the reverse of what usually happens. 

“If I were the public, I would wonder why the train left the station before the code was updated. But that’s the world we live in,” said Marasco.

One of the next steps is a meeting between city officials and Donovan Smith residents. City planner Janelle Cornwell said the meeting could be as soon as August. It would be held before a required public hearing, which has not been scheduled.

Archeological study

In other business, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend changes to an ordinance that requires an archeological study for all new construction in the city. Most of the discussion focused on penalties for owners who do not do the required study. Commissioners agreed that any fines would have to be adequate enough to deter noncompliance. The commission would determine which properties would have a high probability of containing archeological resources.


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