Lewes’ new zoning for annexed land clearly spells out what is permitted and attorney Jim Fuqua says client, Setting Properties Inc., seeks to build exactly what the new law allows.
Joseph Setting II of Setting Properties is seeking to develop the 34-acre Brittingham property on New Road next to Canary Creek. Under the cluster option in the city’s new annexation residential zone, the developer can build nearly 90 townhouses while leaving a required 50 percent open space.
“There’s nothing mysterious about it,” Fuqua said. “What we’re proposing to do is permitted within that existing zoning. That’s what we intend to pursue.”
The possibility of townhouses is what most of the public focused on at an Oct. 30 public hearing. Many said townhouses would be out of character for the area, while others focused on the domino effect if townhouses are allowed.
Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait, who chaired the committee that created the new annexation zones, said the land will be developed even if it’s not annexed into the city.
“The real question is will it be developed in the town or developed in Sussex County,” he said. “To get focused on townhouses at this point is inappropriate. We’re talking about bringing the land into the city.”
Many residents aired frustrations about the lack of information offered by the developer regarding his plans for the property. Fuqua said it’s just too early for that.
“I certainly understand everyone’s concerns about what this is going to be, but it’s just the way the process works,” he said. “There’s no need to present what it’s going to be if we’re not going to be here.”
If the property is annexed, the next step would be major subdivision review by the city’s planning commission. Prior to the commission’s required public hearing, Fuqua said, the developer is committed to holding an informal community meeting to present the plan and answer questions.
Council urged the public to focus on the annexation and potential zoning rather than what’s been rumored to be coming. John Hurlock, who lives directly next to the property, said the development could ruin his quality of life.
“At this point, I’d have to vote against annexation because of the fears I have and the harm it could cause me,” he said. “If I knew what the site plan was right now, I might change that vote. But everything is vague. I have no exact picture of what that’s going to look like out my window.”
Harborview Road resident Maryanne Ennis said approving annexation will almost certainly lead to townhouses, setting a bad precedent for Lewes.
“This scenario of barracks-like buildings will be replicated all along New Road up to Route 1 as developers in the county see what it is Lewes is willing to accept on their doorstep,” she said.
Under similar zoning in Sussex County, the developer could seek townhouses via conditional use with a required 40 percent open space.
Dave Ennis, former state representative who championed open space, said the Canary Creek area is well documented as a former transportation route by colonists and home of Native Americans. He urged council to have the parcel studied before making any decisions.
“The city would be remiss as the First Town in the First State to not put some kind of equation in your discussions that the developer would say he would honor the history of this town and look at the archeological significance,” he said. “It would seem foolish for you to approve anything at this point for annexation without a commitment that they will honor Lewes’ history.”
City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said the state’s Department of Historical and Cultural Affairs will have the opportunity to comment on the project when it is submitted to the Preliminary Land Use Service prior to any meetings on the site plan in Lewes. Traffic issues brought up Oct. 30 will also be apart of the PLUS process, she said.
Resident Rick Quill supported the annexation, saying the city needs to consider projects that will attract a younger population to Lewes.
“Diverse housing should be available,” he said. “We can’t have one size fits all. Density is certainly an issue, but I believe the developer will have good intentions and work with people.”
Realtor Lee Ann Wilkinson, the listing agent for the Brittingham property, said Setting impresses her as someone willing to work with the community. She said change is inevitable, and Lewes would be smart to annex the land to have more control over what’s built there.
“It seems like [the county] is easier to deal with,” she said. “You guys ask more questions. You have a lot more people who come to these meetings and want to know what’s going on because they don’t want things to change. But things change, and unfortunately, we have to live with that. Hopefully you guys can make sure that it’s going to be something that works.”