Lewes planners reluctantly support townhouse project

Lewes Waterfront Preserve calls for 89 units near Canary Creek
April 27, 2021

Lewes Waterfront Preserve received a positive recommendation for final approval from the Lewes Planning Commission at its April 23 meeting, but commissioners weren’t exactly enthusiastic about it.

“Personally, I don’t like 89 townhouses. I don’t think that’s what we should be putting in there, but that’s what’s allowed under the AX-RES zoning,” said Chairman Drew McKay. “I think we have to vote on what we have before us within the parameters of the code and regulations that apply to this particular project.”

Setting Properties Inc. submitted an application for the 34-acre New Road property in fall 2019 under then-recently adopted annexation zoning, which offered developers the opportunity to build projects with less-stringent regulations than all other residential zones in the city. The zoning was created to entice developers to annex and build in the city instead of going to Sussex County for approval.

“We have to change the code, not challenge it,” McKay said. “We have to make it better in the future, so we don’t put ourselves in a position to have to vote on something like this again.”

The vote was 5-1, with Commissioner Melanie Moser in opposition. Mayor and city council has final say on the project. A public hearing will be held prior to consideration.

Before the planning commission vote, Moser attempted to add a condition for approval that would’ve required units to offer only one parking space in each unit’s driveway instead of the two shown on the final site plan. It was defeated by a 4-2 vote. She said by allowing two cars to park side-by-side in each driveway, the city is creating a safety issue for pedestrians who may not be seen by drivers.

Commissioner Sumner Crosby shared McKay’s concerns about the project.

“I do believe we have a process we need to follow,” he said. “I think the plan is out of character with the neighborhood. I hope that this is a one-off, because I don’t really think this fits where it is. But I believe in the process, and the applicant has put forth a good-faith effort to meet all of our conditions and do what we’ve asked of them.”

The reluctance was felt by others.

“The applicant has met all the requirements and my responsibility is to vote in favor,” said Commissioner Nancy Staisey. “I think we need to take some lessons from this when we’re reviewing things like the definition of open space and other requirements.”

Commissioner Bob Heffernan was also concerned about the width of driveways, saying not only was it creating a safety issue, but it would also make for an unattractive streetscape.

“I’m terribly unenthusiastic about this happening,” he said as he cast a vote in favor.

The only commissioner with positive comments was Joe Hoechner.

“I believe in townhouses,” he said. “I think it’s overdue to bring some reasonably priced housing to this area.”

Canary Creek bridge snag

The Delaware Department of Transportation has not granted approval for the New Road entrance to Lewes Waterfront Preserve because it is still working on plans for replacement of the Canary Creek bridge. The incomplete plans may also affect how the Lewes Board of Public Works will extend utilities across Canary Creek to service Lewes Waterfront Preserve and the Tower Hill subdivision, which has already started site work.

DelDOT advised the city that it likely will not finalize plans for the bridge until 2024, with construction planned for 2025, assuming work to realign Old Orchard Road is completed on time.

City engineer Charlie O’Donnell said he does not anticipate it taking until 2024 to get preliminary approval for utilities to go into the ground.

Ron Sutton, the developer’s engineer, said he’s worked closely with DelDOT to rework the entrance. He does not believe it will be affected by the bridge plans because the entrance aligns perfectly with the street directly across New Road.

“We have ample space, and we have left a lot of easements,” he said. “I don’t anticipate our entrance moving one bit.”

Plan details

As promised during the preliminary approval process, the developer is not planning to build any units within the floodplain. Attorney Jim Fuqua said the developer could’ve built within the floodplain if he had met certain requirements, but left the area untouched to be used as open space.

The final site plan shows a trail network throughout the community with park benches and a gazebo around a bio-retention pond.

“That’s not just a pond filled with water,” Sutton said. “It’s going to have landscaping, flowers and plants. It’s a pretty intense operation.”

The developer is required to build a multimodal trail along New Road that will connect to a trail being built as part of the Tower Hill community. A portion of the trail will be added with the new bridge, so the developer is required to make a financial contribution for that section.

A crosswalk and splitter island will be added to New Road as part of roadway improvements required by DelDOT. Sutton said the island is what’s considered a safe harbor island where pedestrians are able to wait safely in the center of New Road.

The developer has also left a stub road and provided an easement for future access to a neighboring property if it is ever developed.

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