The Lewes Planning Commission is recommending approval for an 85-unit single-family-home community along Freeman Highway.
Developer Showfield LLC is proposing to build Olde Town at White’s Pond on a 37-acre lot at the corner of Freeman Highway and Monroe Avenue across from the Lewes Public Library. The project has previously been known as White’s Pond Meadow and was at one time planned to be part of the adjacent Showfield community.
The planning commission voted unanimously with one abstention July 21 to send the application to mayor and city council with a positive recommendation. Commissioners added several conditions for mayor and city council to consider prior to approval.
Planning Commission Chair Drew McKay cast the final vote. Just as he did when voting to approve Lewes Waterfront Preserve, McKay chided past city officials for allowing such development to occur within the city.
“I don’t think 85 houses, 18 houses, 20 houses is really in the future of Lewes,” he said. “I think we have allowed the code to get away from us and have put in place opportunity for development in excess of the capacity of this community. It is important to manage development. It’s equally important to manage the community in total rather than on an individual, isolated basis.”
No matter his feelings, he said, the developer has met current code and he has no choice but to vote in favor of the project.
“Not just because I’m chairman of this commission, but as a lawyer and as a citizen, I have to abide by what my government has set up as the ground rules for us to proceed,” he said. “But I think the ground rules need changing long term. It is overdue, and we need to be looking at these things in a different way.”
Commissioner Bob Heffernan also expressed discomfort with the plan.
“I would prefer this not be there, but that horse is out of the barn,” he said. “I think the conditions recommended tonight are important. Most important is the traffic light.”
The Delaware River and Bay Authority, which owns and maintains Freeman Highway, has agreed to permit a traffic signal at the intersection of Freeman Highway and Monroe Avenue. The intersection will also be improved to include turn lanes. The light will be installed by Delaware Department of Transportation.
The planning commission is suggesting mayor and city council consider a condition to allow access to Monroe Avenue as soon as the signal is installed. They’re also recommending the traffic signal be installed as soon as Monroe Avenue is made passable by the developer. Commissioners view the intersection as dangerous for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, particularly drivers attempting to turn west from White’s Pond toward Kings Highway andRoute 1, so expedited installation of the light would help with safety.
The project plan also includes a connection via Monroe Avenue to the Showfield community to the south. During the early stages of the White’s Pond development, Showfield residents objected to the connection. There was discussion of installing a gate to prevent vehicular flow to and from Showfield, but that talk has subsided, said Ring Lardner of Davis, Bowen and Friedel, the developer’s engineer.
“The developer has met with Showfield and they decided not to put a gate there, but that could change,” he said. “I don’t want to lead the commission to believe it won’t happen. The city’s road and responsibility ends at the property line of Olde Town at White’s Pond. Whether the city likes it or not, that’s just the facts.”
Showfield is outside the city limits, and any gate would have to be approved by Sussex County officials, said Janelle Cornwell, the city’s planning and development coordinator.
“My fear is that this will become a one-entrance, one-exit community, which is something in our comp plan we don’t want,” said Commissioner Debra Evalds.
The planning commission recommended the city add a condition to approval prohibiting the White’s Pond community from blocking the interconnection from its side.
The developer’s original plan showed a future second phase on the east side of White’s Pond along Gills Neck Road. That initial plan showed access via Monroe Avenue and through Showfield. Lardner said those plans are now on the back burner.
“There are no plans right now for Phase 2,” he said.
The plan also includes a stub street to the Bay Breeze community to the west. Like Showfield, Bay Breeze residents objected to any connection to their community. The White’s Pond final plan does not make a connection, but the stub is there if feelings change in the future.
Another proposed condition is a diversification of plant species in the community stormwater ponds. The developer is proposing five species, but commissioners would like to see more.
Commissioners are urging the developer to replace the planned sugar maple trees with oak or other species. They also want to see better placement of street trees throughout the community.
There is already a buffer planned for homes backing up to Freeman Highway, but commissioners are recommending that city council add a condition requiring more trees and shrubs to enhance the buffer, and they want DRBA to consider replacing the existing fence between the property and the Junction and Breakwater Trail, which runs parallel to Freeman Highway, with a split-rail fence.
The community would use Lewes Board of Public Works for water and sewer. It has 28 percent open space, and a circular clump of trees in the middle of the existing farm field is to remain. The average lot size is just under 11,000 square feet, and a community clubhouse will be built in the area of the tree clump.
Mayor and city council will set a public hearing prior to consideration of final approval. Agendas can be found at lewes.civicweb.net.