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Lewes offers new zoning option for annexaton

Officials aim to guide development on Kings Highway and Savannah Road
August 31, 2018

Residential planned communities are now an option for developers considering annexation into Lewes. 

Mayor and city council approved Aug. 13 the addition of RPCs to the city’s annexation-mix zone. It is not an option in the annexation-residential zone. 

An RPC is a mixed-use development that permits a variety of housing types and community buildings, recreational facilities and possibly commercial units. In Lewes, a parcel must be at least 20 acres to qualify for a RPC. 

The RPC is the city’s latest effort to offer an attractive annexation package for owners of vacant land and potential developers. In May, council adopted the two new annexation zones, each with regulations more lenient than what’s available in the city, but more strict than the county’s offerings. Prior to that, council agreed to waive property taxes for up to seven years for vacant land annexed into the city. 

“There’s going to be development around the city in the county land,” said Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait. “If we can get them to annex into the city, then we can have some say as to what that development looks like. Otherwise we have no say as to what happens around us.”

Under the new RPC language, a minimum of 20 percent open space is required. No more than half the units can be townhouses, and commercial space is limited to 6 percent and office space 10 percent of the overall land area. A 25-foot buffer is required from all nontidal wetlands, with an increased buffer of 50 feet from tidal wetlands. Buildings and structures within 50 feet of existing residential development require a 30-foot buffer or a transition in density. 

Resident Tim Rizert said he isn’t entirely on board with the city offering more lenient regulations for land annexed into the city. 

“My concern is that we do not undersell the value of being in the city versus the county,” he said. “It concerns me that possibly we are discounting that value of being property owners in the city as we go about trying to grow the city.”

Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said the city has to offer landowners and potential developers something; otherwise they’ll go to the county for approvals. 

“It seems to me that there’s been a lot of interest in the city for years now to do something positive in the way of annexation so we can exercise some control over the undeveloped land at our borders,” she said. “This is a step in that direction. It’s not what the county would offer. We have to be competitive with the county if we’re going to have any chance at annexing these properties.”

New Road annexation

Residents packed into council chambers Aug. 13 for a public hearing on the proposed residential planned community. With a request for annexation for a 34.64-acre parcel on New Road on the council’s agenda later that night, many residents assumed the two requests were connected. 

Officials plainly stated they were not. 

Lewes officials repeatedly stated at an Aug. 13 public hearing that the new residential planned community section of city code will not be applied to a 34.64-acre parcel on New Road under consideration for annexation.

Residential planned communities and the annexation-mix zone are intended for properties along Savannah Road and Kings Highway, said Tom West, the city’s planning and development coordinator. The property on New Road, known as the Brittingham farm, is in the annexation-residential portion of the city’s annexation map. West said the city would have to amend its comprehensive plan to change the the maps and the city’s policy on annexation, which requires state approval. 

In July, the city received an annexation request for the Brittingham farm from landowner Bob Brittingham, president of 6-12 Dairy Markets Inc. In the request, he says he’s agreed to sell the property for development to Joseph Setting II and Setting Properties Inc. 

In the request, Ronald H. Sutton Jr., managing principal of Civil Engineering Associates, says the developer will seek a cluster development for townhouse lots with a minimum of 50 percent open space and all buffers required under the city’s new annexation-residential zone. 

This is the second development sought for New Road. The first is a major subdivision on the 135-acre Groome United Methodist Church property near Old Orchard Road. The developer of that project is seeking to build 293 units. That land is not contiguous with existing Lewes city limits, so it cannot be considered for annexation. It will have to go through the Sussex County process. 

Other projects near New Road have appeared at the state’s Preliminary Land Use Service panel for review, including a rezoning request for 5.8 acres along Old Orchard Road seeking commercial zoning. PLUS is also reviewing a site plan for 75,000 square feet of commercial space on a 6.95-acre parcel on Old Orchard Road, 1,400 feet south of New Road, called Tranquility at Breakwater.

Mayor Ted Becker said the city is talking with the Department of Transportation about the future of New Road, a state-owned and state-maintained road. City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said the city’s byway committee recently started work on a master plan for New Road. When complete, she said, the master plan will be used by state, county and local officials in all land-use decisions. 

In the meantime, Becker said, city officials should consider increasing buffers to preserve the country setting of New Road. 

“Setbacks should be more stringent than currently laid out in [the annexation zones],” he said. “I would encourage us to look carefully at that.”