Lewes group to tweak annexation zones

Density calculations will be among topics discussed
February 11, 2019

The committee that spent a year-and-a-half developing Lewes’ new zones for annexed land is now tasked with making tweaks.

Mayor and city council put the group back to work following recent changes to Sussex County code, particularly the removal of tidal wetlands from calculation for maximum density on a property. 

Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait, the committee chair, spent most of the group’s first meeting Feb. 5 recapping the work the committee accomplished during its first iteration. Work will continue at its next meeting scheduled for 10 a.m., Monday, Feb. 25, at city hall. 

The AX-RES, annexation-residential, and AX-MIX, annexation-mixed use, zones were adopted by city council in May 2018. The zones may only be applied to land currently outside city limits.

“You have to recognize that any developer that is not already in the city has the option to stay in the county,” Beaufait said. “We cannot force them to annex. I would emphasize that we were trying to be competitive [with Sussex County] but have a transition between the city and the county.”

Beaufait said the committee started with a clean slate and that everything was fair game.

“The committee had very vigorous discussions and debates,” he said. “We tried to consider all angles. I think we came up with a pretty good package. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but I will say, pardon my French, it’s damn good.”

The annexation zones became the center of controversy in the fall when developer Joseph Setting submitted an application to annex the 34-acre Brittingham property along New Road near Canary Creek. In the application, Setting said he sought the new annexation-residential zone and intended to build 90 townhouses. 

The city approved annexation and the requested zoning Nov. 13, upsetting many residents who were very vocal in their opposition.

Many believed the city took action on the application prematurely, as Sussex County officials were considering a significant change to the way density is calculated. Less than a month after the city’s action, county council approved an ordinance that removes tidal wetlands from the equation to determine residential density.

The city’s Planning and Development Officer Tom West provided the committee with a comparison of Lewes’ code and Sussex County’s code at the Feb. 5 meeting. It shows that if Setting had submitted an application to Sussex County prior to its recent change to exclude wetlands, he could’ve sought 138 townhouses on the land, zoned AR-1, through conditional use. Even under the county’s new policy, West said, the developer likely could’ve sought more units, 107, than what’s allowed in Lewes, 90, assuming about 23 percent of the property is state tidal wetlands. 

If the city had waited and adopted a similar ordinance to exclude tidal wetlands, West’s calculations show the developer could’ve built only 69 townhouses.

Beaufait said the density calculation issue will be one of the topics discussed in the coming weeks.

“But there are other things we might want to consider while we’re making some adjustments,” he said. “I think the key word is adjustments. We’re not trying to rewrite this. We’re now fine-tuning.”

Beaufait said he’s not guaranteeing the city will adopt the same density calculation ordinance as the county.

“We want to be in sync with the county, not copy them,” he said. “We will look at what we want to do. What we will include and exclude will be discussed.”

City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said no new zoning district is ever perfect.

“I’ve never been part of a new zoning district that didn’t need some tweaks once you started implementing it,” she said. “I think this is the natural progression.”

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