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Lewes workforce housing project reviewed

Dutchman’s Harvest would bring 140 units along Savannah Road
August 16, 2019

Story Location:
1201 Savannah Road
Lewes  Delaware  19958
United States

Developer Preston Schell ran into opposition against his proposed 140-unit workforce housing project in Lewes. 

Schell of OA Vantage Point II LLC appeared before the city’s planning commission July 23 to present a plan for the project on nearly 8 acres along Savannah Road near the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail crossing. He is proposing 14 buildings with 10 units, each with one to three bedrooms. LPC is considering a recommendation on the site development plan. 

Schell is working with Diamond State Community Land Trust to offer affordable housing for people who work in Sussex County. Schell has agreed to sell up to 42 units, or 30 percent of the project, to Diamond State.

To ensure the units remain affordable, Schell and Diamond State Community Land Trust will place restrictions on all units. To qualify, an owner must work at least 30 hours per week in Sussex County on an annual basis. The unit must be the owner’s primary residence, and they may not own other residential property in Sussex County. All resales and rentals must be to qualified owners or tenants. Income limitations would also be imposed.

The restrictions would remain in effect for 20 years for Schell’s units and 99 years for Diamond State’s units.

Schell said he’s tried to listen to the concerns of all constituent groups, including neighbors, and has adjusted plans in response to their concerns.

“We think this is the best way to accommodate our interests as a developer, the community’s interest for workforce housing and the interests of our neighbors for having an attractive community that does not hurt their property values,” he said.

New Henlopen Gardens resident David Freed said he supports workforce housing, but he strongly opposes the Dutchman’s Harvest plan. He said he spent 47 years in development, finance and public advocacy for affordable housing. He said the project isn’t well thought out, noting parking.

The developer is required to provide two spaces per unit – 280 for this project. Schell said each unit will be provided a one-car garage and one parking space on the property. The plan accounts for exactly 280 spaces.

“There is no parking for visitors,” Freed said. “Where are people going to park when they come to visit?”

He said the parking layout requires people to walk long distances from their dedicated space to their front door.

“Mothers with children, anyone who comes in after dark, will not have parking near their units,” Freed said.

Schell said the garages are not small, and many likely will fit more than one car. He said people can park behind their garages, which is not reflected in the site plan.

Freed also criticized the plan for the homeowners’ association to retain ownership of the roads, saying the cost would be too high on residents in affordable, workforce housing. He also shared concerns about the traffic generated from the community when combined with the proposed senior-living facility next door.

“I believe Dutchman’s Harvest is a failed project in the making,” he said. “It will never be built as presented to the planning commission.”

Eileen Snyder, resident of the adjacent Henlopen Gardens community, objected when the property was rezoned from R-2, low-density residential, to R-5, mixed residential, last year. It’s her goal to ensure the project doesn’t hurt neighboring property values and that her neighbors are able to enjoy their homes peacefully.

“I think Mr. Schell can be commended for trying to do that, especially since it’s the City of Lewes that’s pushing workforce housing, whether it’s doing it in conjunction with the state or in conjunction with the current owner of the property, Beebe,” she said. “I don’t understand why this has been shoved down our neighbors’ throats.”

Among the concerns of neighbors are the community’s two access points to the neighboring senior-living facility, also being built by OA Vantage Point II LLC. When Schell developed the initial plan for workforce housing, he planned to build medical offices. He pivoted to residential after receiving feedback from city officials and neighbors.

“We would not be averse to closing both access points,” he said. “We were proposing medical offices, which was a much more complementary use to the senior-living facility.”

To alleviate any concerns about access for emergency personnel, he said, he’d be willing to provide the fire and EMS community with codes to open gates.

Commissioner Tom Panetta criticized the lack of natural character in the plan.

“Between buildings, paved surfaces and stormwater ponds, it’s going to look harsh,” he said. “Anything that can be done to soften it up would be great.”

Schell agreed that it’s a dense development, but it has to be in order for it to remain affordable for the local workforce, he said. He said he was surprised by Panetta’s comment because he felt he went above and beyond in his landscaping plan.

“It’s hard to see by looking at an overhead site plan, but the architecture itself does soften it up a little bit,” Schell said.

Commissioner Joe Hoechner said the plan was fine.

“There’s nothing there now – it’s an open field,” he said. “It’s going to have five to six times the number of trees.”

Abbey Feierstein, a resident of the condo section of Henlopen Gardens, supports the project.

“I am puzzled as to why one would question why we need workforce housing,” she said. “I worked for the state for 43 years … and it was my dream to live here at the beach. It just makes me so sad to see that people who are gainfully employed and hard workers cannot afford to live in Lewes.”

The planning commission tabled the item until one of its two August meetings, set for Aug. 19 and Aug 21. To view the project plans, go to lewescommissions.wordpress.com/lewes-workforce-housing/.

Unit breakdown

  • 28 one bedroom, one bathroom units
  • 70 two bedrooms, two bathrooms units
  • 42 three bedrooms, two bathrooms units