Redevelopment of the Lewes Ice House property on New Road is not an easy nut to crack.
Twice developers have come to city officials seeking rezoning from industrial to R-4, medium-density residential, and twice nearby residents and some city officials responded unfavorably to the request.
The latest application from Sandbox Land Development LLC received a negative recommendation from planning commission at its Dec. 20 meeting.
Both applicants have cited financial difficulties with making a project work at the 2.1-acre site. Carlton Savage of Sandbox says the large concrete factory building must be demolished and environmental testing will be required. In other words, he has high upfront costs, and in order to make it viable, he must have 10 lots on the parcel.
“I ran the numbers, and I can’t figure out how to make it work under R-2 given the condition of redevelopment,” he said. “If it were a vacant lot, I think it would be very feasible to make that happen.”
The entire area surrounding the Ice House is zoned R-2, low-density residential, and granting rezoning to R-4 could be considered spot zoning.
Savage said 82 percent of the lots that border the parcel are less than the minimum of 10,000 square feet required for R-2 zoning. The average nonconforming lot size in the vicinity is 8,069 square feet. Savage said the average square footage for his proposed 10 lots would be 9,158, less than 900 square feet from meeting the R-2 requirement, but still larger than neighboring properties.
Savage said the properties likely became nonconforming when Lewes updated its zoning code several years ago.
The proposed project would add five lots fronting New Road and another five lots with access via Carey Lane. Several Carey Lane residents attended the Dec. 20 meeting to voice their opposition to the project as proposed, saying the narrow road cannot handle any more traffic.
“Carey Lane is a dead-end lane,” said Ruth Ruggiero, who’s lived on the street for nearly 40 years. “When garbage trucks or delivery trucks come, they have to turn around in our yards. There’s no other possible way for them to do it.”
City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said the road is about 14 feet wide, but she said she does not know how much additional right of way the city if the road were to be widened.
The commission agreed with residents about Carey Lane. In a 6-1 vote, the group recommended that city council deny the request, citing the impact on Carey Lane and noting it does not meet the requirements for R-4 zoning, specifically that it is not adjacent to the town center.
Councilwoman Bonnie Osler, a nonvoting member of the planning commission, pointed to the definition of adjacent in city code, which says “physically touching or bordering upon; sharing a common boundary, but not overlapping.”
Commission member Tom Pannetta said the Ice House is more than one mile from Second Street, what he would consider the town center.
City council denied a rezoning request for R-4 in September, in part because it was not close enough to downtown.
Planning Commission Mark Harris empathized with the property owner and the developer.
“There seems to be fairly wide agreement that residential would be good [for the property],” he said. If it’s in fact true that reconstituting the property is so expensive that you couldn’t make enough money to come out comfortably at the end, then we’ve got a universal problem.”
An earlier rezoning application for the Lewes Ice House went before city officials in spring 2016. A developer was seeking to build duplexes on the parcel. The planning commissioner voted 5-3 to recommend approval of the project, but it was later discovered the parcel did not meet the minimum lot size requirement of 2.5 acres to build duplexes, and the project was withdrawn from consideration.