Donovan-Smith residents plead for help at public workshop

City explains proposed ordinance to bring troubled community up to code
August 29, 2023

Residents of the Donovan-Smith Manufactured Home Community had the first of two chances to tell Lewes city leaders what they think of proposed zoning changes that would bring their community up to code.

The Aug. 24 meeting was conducted in English with a Spanish interpreter.

Lewes Mayor Andrew Williams and city council members went over the ground rules and addressed the top six concerns they’ve heard from residents.

Next, City Planning and Building Manager Janelle Cornwell took the podium to explain definitions of terms like conditional use and text amendment, go over details of the proposed zoning ordinance and dispel rumors. It only took a short time before residents, and their advocates, began asking questions and demanding answers. 

“How does this benefit our community?” asked resident Terry Saunders. “Have you done a study to see what we really need? We were promised that our standard of living would rise.”

Lewes annexed Donovan-Smith last year, knowing it would have to bring the community up to city code. There are about 80 manufactured homes and 130 land-lease areas. 

Residents of the community said that Sussex County, and now the City of Lewes, have promised to fix overflowing septic tanks, electrical issues, dirty water and deteriorating streets, but they have not seen results.

The Lewes Board of Public Works is currently spending $5 million to connect Donovan-Smith to city water and sewer. That work is expected to be done by November 2024.

The proposed changes would allow the owner, Donovan-Smith LLC and Ken Burnham, to place another 30 homes in the community. Following the meeting, Cornwell said a representative for Burnham attended the workshop, but did not speak. 

“We’re talking about expansion, which I’m not against, but I’d like to know the environmental impact,” said resident Sharon Ashe. “We [don’t have] clean water or a working septic system, and it seems like you’re negotiating with the property owner to fulfill his fantasy of 130 homes.”

Some residents said the community is already overcrowded and not safe for their children.

In order for Donovan-Smith to match current code, the city and residents must agree on a conditional-use ordinance.

A text amendment will then be drafted, changing code to reflect current conditions in the community. It would cover proposed changes to lot coverage, setbacks, separation distances and land-lease areas. Many of the zoning changes would apply only to new construction.

The text amendment would then go through the approval process, which includes the Lewes Planning Commission, and finally go to mayor and council for a vote. The process would take an estimated six to eight months.

Without a conditional-use ordinance, no new homes can be placed in Donovan-Smith. Residents cannot replace a home, even if there is a catastrophic loss. A homeowner could ask the Lewes Board of Adjustment for a variance in an extreme case.

Cornwell clarified misconceptions about the proposed zoning changes, assuring residents they would not have to move their homes or sheds.

She did say that the 30 homeowners living in the floodplain would have to pay to elevate their homes, but only if they were to renovate or replace their existing homes. 

“They are people you need to protect. They work in the restaurants. They clean the bathrooms and the hospitals. They should live in dignity,” said Charito Calvachi-Mateyko, chair of the Votamos, We Vote Coalition. She was there to advocate for Donovan-Smith’s Latino residents.

“You can create an amazing thing here. You have the wheel,” she told city leaders.

The next public hearing will be held at 6 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25, at the Rollins Center.

For more information and a meeting link, go to


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