Lewes council must embrace workforce housing
Sussex County is aging, and Lewes is leading the way. One in five Sussex County residents is over the age of 65, but in Lewes, that number rises to more than two residents in five over age 65.
Recognizing the city must plan for this population as older residents downsize and need more assistance, Lewes Planning Commission recently took the issue head on, unanimously agreeing to recommend to city council approval of a rezoning request to allow a new, 175-unit senior-living facility off Kings Highway.
At the same time, planners recommended denial of a request to rezone an adjacent 7-acre parcel for medical offices, asking the developer to instead focus on workforce housing, a critical need across the Cape Region and especially in Lewes.
The parcel is zoned low-density residential, but developer Preston Schell told the commission the last thing Lewes needs is more large-lot, single-family homes, noting the average single-family home in Lewes costs more than $600,000.
He agreed to consider developing a plan for workforce housing on the parcel.
Embracing the need for workforce housing is especially significant in Lewes, where officials developing the city's comprehensive land development plan have consistently avoided commiting to expanding affordable housing within the city.
Expanding housing options for the city's older residents is a significant step toward serving Lewes' aging population – but creating housing opportunities for the workforce needed to serve that population, including teachers, nurses, medical office employees and police officers, is no less important.
The project now heads to city council, which is expected to set a date for a public hearing.
City council would do well to follow the lead of its planners and approve rezoning for senior housing, while asking the developer to return with a plan for workforce housing on the remaining tract.
Lewes holds diversity as one of its core values. City council should take action now to honor that core value and ensure a diverse and vibrant future.
Note: The editorial has been updated to clarify Preston Schell estimated the average cost of homes in Lewes, not Sussex County, at $600,000. The average cost of homes including all of Sussex County is estimated at $300,000.