An attorney representing 27 Lewes households says the city’s planning commission cannot approve preliminary consent for the proposed Fisher's Cove development because stormwater management plans are incomplete.
Representatives of developer Burke & Rutecki LLC say that information is not required for preliminary consent, and details will be worked out for the final plan for 18 single-family lots on about 11 acres off Rodney Avenue.
Attorney Bill Rhodunda, representing a group called Concerned Citizens of Rodney, Hornkill and Friends, said the commission’s only option is denial.
“This is a very extremely difficult property to develop, and there’s a reason why it’s been undeveloped for so long,” he said.
The west side of the property abuts the Great Marsh. Nearby residents submitted photographs showing water funneling onto the Fisher's Cove property during coastal storms. If the parcel is developed, residents say, the water has no where to go but onto their properties. Many of the neighboring homes were built prior to floodplain regulations, so they will sit lower than Fisher's Cove.
Rhodunda said there are a number of requirements that city code says a developer shall meet prior to approval.
“The burden is on the applicant,” he said. “If they can meet all the requirements, then that’s fine. The issue is: Can they?”
He pointed to code that says no development can affect the flood-carrying capacity of the floodplain.
“That seems impossible in this case,” he said. “That stops their plan dead in its tracks.”
Flooding already occurring
Resident Patty Campanelli built her home on Hornkill Avenue in 1980. She never experienced a threat of flooding for the first 25 years she lived there. Over the last decade, she said, she’s seen a drastic increase. During Superstorm Sandy, she said, more than 3 feet of water reached her crawlspace. Water was an inch from reaching the garage.
“After 40 years, I’d say I’m a qualified expert of my backyard,” she said. “Every storm brings a terrible sense of anxiety.”
Like Campanelli, Harborview Road resident Debra Evalds said her home was built prior to present-day flood plain regulations. She said the stormwater system in her neighborhood is inadequate, and further development could flood her property with water that has no other place to go.
“I pay Lewes taxes, but we don’t get the same services and respect as people in Reserves at Pilottown or Canary Creek,” she said. “I find it unacceptable that a development with new homes is being contemplated where we don’t have adequate stormwater management.”
She said Sussex County officials are partly to blame for the increased flooding in recent years. She recently sat near the entrance to Harbor Point on Park Road, just upstream from the Fisher's Cove site, and counted 13 dump trucks bringing fill dirt to the site, which sits along the Great Marsh. She said it’s been occurring for weeks.
“Every day huge amounts of fill is being trucked in there,” she said. “It’s not being monitored. No one is scrutinizing it.”
Access to the property
Residents also object to the use of Rodney Avenue as access for the subdivision. Rodney Avenue is narrow, less than 20 feet, with no sidewalks. The road dead ends at the Fisher's Cove property with a gate blocking access to the parcel.
Residents have suggested the developer build a road from Pilottown Road through the historic Fisher House property, where the developer instead plans a pedestrian path for residents. In a previous interview, Burke & Rutecki principal Justin Healy said a road would devalue the historic property.
Resident JoEllen Jordan argued using Rodney Avenue to access Fisher's Cove would adversely affect all the homes on the street.
“We don’t have sidewalks, and we don’t need or want to widen the road,” she said. “It would only contribute to speeding. We ask [LPC] to not devalue our homes.”
In response to the avalanche of concerns regarding flooding, attorney Tim Willard said by law the developer cannot impact neighbors. The stormwater plan will be approved by Sussex Conservation District and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Without those approvals, he said, the plan cannot go forward.
“When I hear all this speculation, I’m thankful we have the law to follow,” Willard said. “If you ask us to do things that aren’t required by law, that’s a problem.”
Willard reiterated that his client has met all the requirements for preliminary consent approval and has gone beyond requirements by revealing some of the more engineered plans that were developed in response to the flood study by AECOM, commissioned by Lewes officials and released in June.
Jeffrey Bross, an engineer with Duffield Associates, said many recommendations included in the AECOM flood study will be incorporated into the Fisher's Cove plan. However, he challenged the results of several simulations involving coastal storms and rainfall events.
“It was noted throughout the study that a number of assumptions had to be made,” he said. “The level of accuracy of flood studies is usually plus or minus an inch. It is our professional opinion that equates to no measurable impact.”
Stormwater to the canal
As a way to minimize or eliminate flooding on neighboring properties, the developer’s engineers revised the plan for stormwater management. Research shows the water table is less than 3 feet on the marsh side of the property and 6 feet or less in the upland section. That means infiltration in stormwater ponds is not an option. Instead, the developer now plans to construct a pipe under Pilottown Road to discharge stormwater in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
By diverting stormwater to the canal, engineer Dev Sitaram of Karin and Associates said it’s possible the project will improve conditions for everyone in the neighborhood.
In addition to rerouting stormwater runoff, Sitaram said the developer plans to seek a waiver for street width in an effort to reduce the amount of impervious surface on the property. A traffic study found the subdivision will generate a maximum of 215 daily trips. If fewer than 500 trips are projected, a developer may request the waiver, he said. They also plan to request the removal of sidewalks from a portion of the plan that fronts no homes, but surrounds one of the stormwater collection areas.
Some members of the planning commission questioned the extent of revisions to the plan, asking whether the plan should be resubmitted, restarting the approval process.
City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said it’s not uncommon for developers to revise plans throughout the process and commissioners should continue with their consideration.
Willard said the revised plans his colleagues showed and described were merely a look at what’s possible in the final version. The goal, he said, was to make commissioners more comfortable with the plan, by showing them what is feasible.
The Aug. 21 meeting concluded a three-month public hearing for the project. The hearing started in June, but Rhodunda was unable to attend. Some public comment was taken before the hearing was recessed to July. Willard could not attend the July meeting, so again public comment was taken before recessing to August. With all parties present, the hearing finally reached its conclusion Aug. 21 with a three-plus hour session.
Public record will remain open until Saturday, Aug. 31. After that, commissioners will send their comments and concerns to the city’s planning and development coordinator, who will draft a list of conditions and recommendations for the commission to consider. The commission has 90 days from the public hearing to make a decision on preliminary consent.
To view plans and reports related to Fisher's Cove, go to lewescommissions.wordpress.com/reviews/dev_reviews/Fisher's-cove/.