A decision on whether to grant variances for Royal Farms to construct a convenience store and gas station at the corner of Route 16 and Union Street Extended has been put off by Milton Board of Adjustment until Tuesday, Feb. 22.
The board ruled at its Jan. 25 meeting that Royal Farms needed to provide additional information with its plans and to allow for public comment on those changes.
Royal Farms is seeking to build a 5,100-square-foot complex on a 2-acre parcel. It had originally asked for four variances: for a 163-square-foot sign area facing Cedar Creek Road, for only 6 to 8 feet of open space at the base of the Cedar Creek Road sign, and for a 20-foot parking setback from Route 16 and a 41-foot parking setback on the convenience store parking area adjacent to Union Street Extended.
However, the week of the Jan. 25 meeting, Royal Farms made changes to its plans so they only required two variances. First, they reduced the size of the Cedar Creek Road sign area to 106 square feet, although town code still required a variance since the maximum area is 72 square feet. Elevations on the plans show the sign being about 24 feet tall. The change to the sign size eliminated the need for a variance from the open-space requirements.
The second variance is for the 20-foot parking setback from Route 16. The 41-foot parking setback variance was eliminated when Royal Farms extended the western boundary of the property.
At first, the board expressed some uncertainty over whether it should go through with the public hearing, as the plan changes had not been part of the agenda packet presented for public view before the meeting. There were also questions over whether neighboring property owners had received notice through the mail.
Ultimately, the board agreed to go through with the public hearing, to allow Royal Farms to present its case and those who attended the meeting to speak, but leave the record open without a vote in order to give the public time to see the revised plans.
Representing Royal Farms at the meeting were attorney Shawn Tucker, engineer James Taylor and Royal Farms Director of Real Estate Jeff Bainbridge.
Both Taylor and Bainbridge said a 106-square-foot sign was the smallest they could go, because anything smaller would be a safety hazard. Bainbridge said the sign has to be large enough so motorists can see it from the road and not have to slow down to read it. Without the sign, they questioned whether a Royal Farms in Milton could succeed, as the prices and convenience of a Royal Farms are what makes it appealing for customers. Taylor said while the size of Royal Farms signs depends on location, typical sign areas are 150 square feet.
Bainbridge and Taylor said plans for the Royal Farms include more parking than is needed – town code has the required spaces at around 25, but Royal Farms is planning to have 49 spaces in order to accommodate busier times. Bainbridge and Taylor said without the variances, Royal Farms would have a difficult time delivering the kind of customer experience people have come to expect from the brand.
“Nobody wants an inconvenient convenience store,” Bainbridge said.
While it is not part of the variance requests, Tucker said Royal Farms’ traffic management plan has already been approved by Delaware Department of Transportation. Taylor said the plan is for traffic to have no left-hand turns going out of the parcel onto Route 16, with a right-in, right-out, left-in traffic design. Royal Farms will be responsible for putting in a left-hand turn lane on Route 16.
Only two members of the public spoke at the Jan. 25 meeting, but both were opposed to granting the variances.
Michelle Christopher said the Route 16 corridor is already facing problems with too much traffic, and adding a Royal Farms will exacerbate that and potentially cause accidents. Lea Terhune said she believes a Royal Farms is contrary to the charming, small-town flavor of Milton; she asked the board to deny the variances and for Royal Farms to not move forward with the project.
Tucker said a commercial business such as Royal Farms is within the spirit of what the town envisions for that area in its comprehensive development plan, and it is consistent with development in that area.
The board is planning to reconvene Feb. 22 to receive additional comments and vote on the variances. There were concerns from the Royal Farms representatives because the store is scheduled to close on the property at the beginning of March, and they wanted to make sure a vote and written decision would be in hand by then. The board’s typical practice is to hold a voice vote and then put their reasons for voting into a resolution that is also voted on. However, the board assured them that both could be done at the same meeting, so Royal Farms would have an answer by then.