Lewes Mayor, City Council deny Fisher’s Cove

Developer was seeking to build 18 single-family homes on 11.08 acres off Rodney Avenue
October 14, 2021

The proposed Fisher’s Cove major subdivision has been denied by Lewes Mayor and City Council.

By a 3-1 vote Oct. 14, council upheld the planning commission’s earlier vote to reject preliminary consent for the project.

Developer Burke & Rutecki LLC was seeking preliminary consent to build an 18-unit, single-family home development on an 11.08-acre parcel off Rodney Avenue near the University of Delaware. The parcel is adjacent to marshland.

The project has been controversial since it was first introduced in 2018, with nearby residents raising concerns about flooding and impact on quality of life.

Councilman Tim Ritzert made the motion to uphold the planning commission’s vote. He stated more than a dozen reasons why he objected to the Fisher’s Cove plan. Among his reasons was that more than 70 percent of the proposed dwellings would be constructed within the floodplain. He also does not believe the applicant adequately addressed how the community would affect area waterways, how it would protect environmentally sensitive areas and how it would minimize tree and soil removal. Other concerns include lack of recreation areas in the proposed plan, which are required by city code, lack of connectivity within the development, and failure to provide adequate transportation improvements on Rodney Avenue that would improve bicycle and pedestrian mobility.

Deputy Mayor Andrew Williams agreed with Ritzert’s reasoning and emphasized his concerns about development within the floodplain, a planned stormwater management outfall pipe into wetlands and the lack of recreational areas.

Mayor Ted Becker said he voted to deny the project because it does not meet the safety and welfare standard of the city.

“Much of this parcel is wet, and I’m not satisfied that what has been proposed will provide a positive impact on the floodplain,” he said.

Becker said he believes the parcel can be developed, but with a plan much smaller than what was proposed with Fisher’s Cove.

Councilman Khalil Saliba was the lone vote in favor of the project. He said the development complies with the requirements of the city’s land development and zoning codes as well as the city’s 2015 comprehensive plan. And because it meets code, he said, the city should grant preliminary consent.

The property is zoned R-2, low-density residential, and Saliba pointed out that the proposed lots exceed the minimum lot size requirement.

While there are concerns about building in the floodplain, Saliba said development is permitted to occur in such areas. The plan has 39.3 percent open space, exceeding the required 10 percent, he said.

As it relates to flooding and stormwater issues, he said, the Sussex Conservation District, the approving body, has already reviewed and granted approval to the stormwater management plan. City consultant AECOM also ran a flood model based on the proposed stormwater management plan and determined the facilities are adequate, Saliba said.

He said various agencies would inspect the stormwater management facilities throughout the construction process to ensure they are built and operate correctly.

For Rodney Avenue, he said, the developer’s plan to improve the roadway would bring the street closer to the city’s standard and provide better access for emergency responders.

Prior to the vote, Saliba suggested many of his colleagues’ concerns could be addressed through conditions such as requiring homes be built on pilings with the ground level being left as grass. He also suggested driveways, patios, sidewalks and decks be required to be of pervious materials, and that each home be required to install and maintain at least two best management practices such as a rain garden, green roof, rain barrels or planting of four trees.

Tim Willard, the developer’s attorney, said his team is looking at the next possible steps.

“The applicant is disappointed with the MCC decision. Legal options are being considered,” he said.

Councilwoman Carolyn Jones recused herself from discussion and vote.

After speaking with City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas in August, she submitted a letter to the city’s board of ethics detailing a potential issue. After considering the board’s response, she informed mayor and city council of her recusal in early September.

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