Lewes council addresses Mitchell’s Corner proposal

April 29, 2022

The following letter was sent to Sussex County Council with a copy provided to the Cape Gazette for publication. 

I write to express the serious concerns of the mayor and city council of Lewes regarding the proposed rezoning applications, major subdivision application and the conditional-use application for the Mitchell Farm property at the corner of Gills Neck Road and Kings Highway. In total, these applications represent nearly 47 acres of land adjacent to the city boundary of Lewes. The applications request that land currently zoned AR-1 be rezoned to C-2, medium commercial, and MR, medium residential. Two other applications seek approval to construct 267 townhomes and duplexes at this location. We request Sussex County Council deny the applications as submitted and engage in a master planning process that would result in appropriately protecting drinking water, mitigating traffic, providing housing affordable to the local workforce and preserving the quality of life of this community.

The city's concerns regarding these applications are as follows:

1. Proximity to city well fields - The city well fields are located across the Gills Neck Road/Kings Highway intersection, and the southwest corner of the subject property is within the wellhead protection area for these wells. These wells draw from the unconfined Columbia aquifer. The increase in impervious cover permitted by the proposed zoning changes could adversely impact the quality and quantity of the drinking water the city residents rely upon, as well as residents of unincorporated Sussex County who are served by the Lewes BPW, and others who rely on the Columbia aquifer for their drinking water. Further, the proposed plan associated with the related commercial development places the stormwater management pond within the wellhead protection area, which will concentrate the pollutants from road and parking lot runoff in this area. The city requests this pond be relocated. If developed, the site should be subject to green infrastructure practices that remove pollutants from the stormwater and recharge the aquifer. The site should also be designed to maximize open space and include landscaped buffers along the perimeter of the site. As you know, the City of Lewes, Lewes BPW and Sussex County collaborated to purchase the Jones Farm in 2020, adjacent to the well fields, but the proper management of the wellhead protection area beyond the Jones Farm is important to ensure protection of the city's drinking water. We strongly recommend any development plan for the site utilize pervious pavement and ensure that stormwater is properly treated to remove pollutants prior to entering the aquifer. We understand that the Lewes BPW has engaged a hydrogeologist to study the effects of the proposed development on the city's wellhead protection area, and this report will be forthcoming soon. We strongly request Sussex County Council not approve the subject applications until such time that this report can be properly reviewed and considered.

2. Housing density and affordable housing - Given the constraints of the site, as they relate to the proximity to the Lewes wells and the traffic congestion that already exists in the area, we are concerned that the density of housing units proposed for the site is too much for this location. Given the shortage of affordable housing in the coastal area, we believe any land plan that allows for density that exceeds that which is permitted in the AR-1 zone should be subject to requirements that a portion of the units be made affordable to our regional workforce.

3. Effect on traffic – The proposed development at this location, combined with other proposed developments in the area, will add traffic to roads that already regularly experience congestion. This will adversely affect the residents of Lewes and the surrounding unincorporated communities. If approved, the site design should include sidewalks throughout the development, safe bicycle and pedestrian connections between the residential and commercial sections, and bike racks to encourage safe pedestrian and bicycle access. The plan for the site should also include adequate accommodations for transit, including a transit stop and possible shelter.

4. Coordinated planning between county and municipal governments - As this property sits adjacent to the City of Lewes and very near the well field serving the city, development in this area should be coordinated with the city to provide proper transition of land uses between the city and the unincorporated county land. There are 67 additional undeveloped acres in this immediate area we understand are the subject of separate applications. A master plan should be developed in collaboration with the property owners of both areas, Sussex County, City of Lewes and the Lewes BPW to ensure the ultimate development of the remaining undeveloped land meets the needs of all involved while protecting the water resources, preserving the road capacity and safeguarding the quality of life that makes the Lewes area so attractive to all of us who call it home.

We encourage you to deny the request as submitted and engage in a process that is inclusive of stakeholders and respects the various constraints of the area.

Ted Becker
Lewes mayor
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