Henlopen Bluff gets green light from Lewes planners

Commissioners attach 39 conditions, recommend approval despite open space, traffic concerns
November 24, 2023

Henlopen Bluff is one step closer to being built after the Lewes Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the 79-lot major subdivision.

Commissioners gave the green light at their Nov. 21 special meeting despite concerns over access to usable open space and the impact on Gills Neck Road traffic.

Henlopen Bluff is planned for a 61-acre parcel owned by Showfield LLC south of the Freeman Highway bridge on Gills Neck Road. The development would include boat slips and a kayak launch on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal across Gills Neck Road from the development.

Commissioners attached 39 conditions of approval that they said will improve the development and address concerns raised at an Oct. 18 public hearing.

“I’ll hold my nose and vote in favor,” said Commissioner Richard Innes. “I think it is improved with these conditions. But I think the proposal as submitted is seriously lacking. I do not think it was submitted in the spirit of what Lewes is all about.”

The conditions include more open space access, adding a playground, traffic and archeological surveys, requiring turn lanes from Gills Neck Road and a vehicle connection to the neighboring Showfield community.

Before the vote, commissioners had a lengthy discussion on the proposed open space. While the proposal meets requirements, commissioners are concerned that much of it is not accessible or usable for active or passive recreation.

“It meets the number; it doesn’t pass the ‘spirit’ test,” said Commissioner Amy Marasco.

Commissioners referred to the developer’s plan that outlines the proposed open space around White’s Pond and in Henlopen Bluff.

“It was never our intention that it would be a small strip of land that may or may not be mowed that extends around a whole series of backyards,” said Commission Chair Nancy Staisey.

Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of two waivers requested by the developer.

One waiver would reduce the horizontal turnaround radius from 100 feet to 50 feet on three streets. The other eliminates the need for a T turnaround on three streets.

The panel’s recommendation includes a speed limit reduction in the development from 20 mph to 17 mph.

“I believe it provides reasonable accommodation for the development while still providing safety for drivers,” said Commissioner Melanie Moser.

Commissioners rejected a third waiver by a 6-1 vote. It would have allowed the developer to reduce the width of a required corridor buffer on Gills Neck Road from 50 feet to 25 feet.

The developer submitted its plan for Henlopen Bluff after the city changed the subdivision code to include the 50-foot buffer. The developer still asked for the reduction, claiming hardship.

But most of the commissioners did not buy that argument.

“This is not a Chinese restaurant menu. You can’t choose to conform to the parts of the plan you like, then go back to the old plan and stick with the things you prefer,” said Commissioner Debra Evalds. “We must follow the code.”

Only Commissioner Bill Davis voted in favor of the buffer reduction.

Commissioners also unanimously approved two additional recommendations to mayor and council: traffic-calming and enforcement measures on Gills Neck Road, and coordinating a nutrient management plan for White’s Pond.

Commissioners also approved the lot-line adjustment plan.

The recommendations now go to mayor and city council for consideration.


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