Lewes Beach minor subdivision draws concern

Application previously approved in 2018 had lapsed
August 27, 2021

Story Location:
109 Oregon Ave
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

Two Lewes Beach property owners’ desire to subdivide their lot and reorient the resulting two parcels to front on Bay Avenue has neighbors expressing concern.

Applicants William and Michele Thomas are seeking to split their lot at the corner of Oregon Avenue and Bay Avenue, then relocate a portion of the existing home onto one of the new lots. In 2018, the Thomases had sought the same minor subdivision, receiving unanimous approval from both the planning commission and mayor and city council. Approval lapsed after no work was done on the property.

Lewes Planning Commission discussed the new request at its Aug. 18 meeting. Nearby residents say they are not opposed to the subdivision, but rather the reorientation of the lots to face Bay Avenue. They say most lots on Lewes Beach front the street that connects Bay Avenue to Cedar Street.

Maggie Gaines, whose family has owned a property on Oregon Avenue for three generations, said her property has seen increased flooding since a similar subdivision and reorientation was approved on neighboring Kentucky Avenue. She said she worries it will only get worse if the subdivision is approved.

“All of the flood water is going to be going on our property, since we are the lowest point on our street,” she said. “It’s not fair to us to have to bear the burden of cost to try to deal with this flooding. We really hope the commission takes into account the flooding issues already happening.”

Lewes Beach properties are currently allowed to build to 50 percent lot coverage for homes, and an additional 15 percent for driveways and sidewalks. Janelle Cornwell, the city’s planning and development coordinator, said it’s difficult to determine if more land would be covered with two lots as opposed to one, because it depends on the size of the homes that are built. There are no plans for homes at this time, she said.

Nancy D’Orazio, who owns the adjacent parcel on New Jersey Avenue, said reorientation of the lots could create a 30-foot wall along Oregon Avenue because setbacks would follow the established building line of the street, allowing the side of a home to be built close to the street.

The existing home, which faces Bay Avenue, is just two feet off the city’s right of way, Cornwell said.

Because the existing parcel is a corner lot, it has two front-yard setbacks. City code states front-yard setbacks are 25 feet or along the street’s existing building line.

Another neighbor concern is the possible improvement of a long-unused alley that runs between Oregon and New Jersey avenues. If the lots are reoriented to face Bay Avenue, the owners intend to seek permission to access the inner lot via the alley.

William Thomas said Aug. 18 that he has no intention of opening the entire alley from Bay to Cedar.

Oregon Avenue resident Matt Larmore said he’s concerned about opening the alley for use.

“They alley has a tremendous amount of permeable ground that helps the area,” he said. “I have a grave concern that if that becomes crushed concrete or gravel that [stormwater is] going to run from Bay to Cedar and affect both sides of the alley.”

John Sergovic, the Thomases’ attorney, said his clients are not seeking anything that’s not already allowed by city code.

“There is precedent for this approval,” he said, referencing the 2018 application and another on Kentucky Avenue. “To deviate from that precedent is … skating on thin ice.”

“My clients are only seeking what they are legally entitled to under the code,” he added. “There are no code sections that I’m aware of that allow the commission to determine how a property owner can orient their homes.”

The property is located within the excellent recharge area. The city’s existing code says maximum lot coverage is 20 percent for that area; however, mayor and city council recently passed a moratorium on enforcing that law while officials work to update the regulations. The moratorium runs until Nov. 16, 2021. If the subdivision is approved and building plans are submitted prior to that date, they will move ahead under 50 percent/65 percent lot coverage. If plans are submitted after, they are subject to the 20 percent figure or whatever mayor and city council approves as a replacement.


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