Donovan Smith residents raise concerns over proposed ordinance

Frustrations aired about safety, delay in water and sewer extension
May 19, 2023

A little over a year after being annexed into Lewes, Donovan Smith Manufactured Home Park is again being discussed earnestly by city officials.

Two meetings centered around the park were held in early May, and residents left both frustrated. The second meeting, May 9, focused on a proposed ordinance city staff says will help residents. 

The purpose of the May 9 meeting was to inform manufactured home residents in Lewes, specifically those in Donovan Smith, of a proposed change to zoning codes related to manufactured homes. City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said it was important to hold the meeting prior to mayor and city council setting a date for a public hearing regarding the ordinance. 

She began the meeting by clarifying it was not the time to talk about the water and sewer connection, because that issue was being handled by the Lewes Board of Public Works during progress meetings. She then explained the complicated history of Donovan Smith. Original land lease areas were 35 feet by 75 feet, then shortly after amended to 40 feet by 80 feet. The land lease areas reportedly changed over time.

Townshend said the proposed ordinance focuses on providing individual homeowners the ability to maintain, improve and enjoy their land. She added the ordinance will allow vacant lots to be utilized. 

City planner Janelle Cornwell presented reasons for the proposed changes. According to information available to building officials, the typical lot size in Donovan Smith is 2,625 to 3,200 square feet. Existing code permits 5,000 square feet and the ordinance proposes to allow for 2,400 square feet.

The ordinance would decrease the 50-foot lot frontage requirement to 40 feet and increase the allowable lot coverage from 40% to 65%. Current setbacks in the community exist anywhere from 5 to 10 feet, but Lewes code requires 8 feet. The proposal would decrease the setback to 5 feet, but keep the required 16 feet of separation distance. Some homes are only separated by 12 feet.

Lewes code allows manufactured homes to be 15 feet tall, but the proposed ordinance would increase the height to 24 feet. One of the main influences for the increase in building height is to allow for construction in the floodplain. The existing code does not permit construction of any kind, including additions or external repairs. There are about 26 homes and other vacant lots in the floodplain.

Cornwell said by permitting construction in the floodplain, homeowners will be able to make necessary repairs or construct amenities. 

Townshend said homes in the floodplain will need to be raised at least 18 inches. The increased height will allow for the structure to be properly sized when raised. 

The proposed ordinance would eliminate the landscape buffer required around the community. If enforced, Cornwell said, it would have to be planted in the middle of several properties. An open space requirement of 300 square feet per lot would no longer be required under the proposed ordinance.

Some residents in attendance said they understand the city is trying to help them, but a majority of residents are skeptical because of their history with the property owner Ken Burnham and the property management company KDM Development Corporation. Residents said they feel their sanitation services have not improved as they wait for a water and sewer project to begin, and they worry the property owner is shirking his responsibilities.

The failure of their sanitation services, as acknowledged by the State of Delaware and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, led to public funds being used to restore sufficient water and sewer services to the park. Burnham pleaded for annexation into the city to afford the BPW’s rates. Burnham said he could not afford to pay the rates nonresident BPW customers pay. KDM has reportedly raised lot rents to as high as $700 for one lot site since annexation.

Residents fear Burnham is only trying to use public funds to increase the number of residents in the park following a presentation from KDM attorney John Paradee during an affordable housing workshop. Residents said they already feel overcrowded and claim DNREC told them their septic systems are failing again because of the amount of people residing in each unit. 

Townshend said she believed an application was filed to the Sussex County Housing Trust to bring units into the park. Annexed with 88 occupied units, the memorandum of understanding calls for 130 sites to be connected to sanitary services. If the property owner is allowed to rent units, current residents argue there’s a fairness issue because they were forced to purchase their home and pay a mortgage on top of their land rent. 

Townshend said there will be no more than 130 lots in the park, and no units will placed on lots until the water and sewer connections are complete.

Mayor and city council are set to schedule a public hearing regarding the ordinance during their Monday, May 22 meeting. 


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