A Milton committee gave its unanimous approval to recommending the town annex 450 acres of land on Sand Hill Road that would be developed into a 1,350-unit housing development called The Granary at Draper Farms.
The special review committee finalized its cost/benefit analysis of the project Oct. 19, showing that over the planned 20-year buildout of the development, the town would receive an estimated $5 million in revenues from taxes and fees while having to spend $3.5 million over that time in manpower, equipment and maintenance.
Committee Chairman John Collier said the advantages to the annexation are increases to the tax base, increased parkland and open space, increased utility and general fund revenues, new business opportunities in the 60,000 square feet of commercial space proposed by developer Convergence Communities, and the town’s ability to manage and oversee the growth of the development and because the property is called for as a growth area in the town’s comprehensive development plan.
Collier said the town has new, adequate schools and two healthcare facilities within each direction of the development.
Convergence Communities has pledged up to 55 acres of open space that would be added to the town’s park system. While Convergence would be responsible for the building of infrastructure within the development, the town would be responsible for the streets once the development is complete. The land is currently in Sussex County, so in theory Convergence could go through the county to build the development, although Convergence founder Colby Cox, whose family owns the land, has said that is not the company’s intention and that the company wants the development in Milton.
Collier said Milton residents would be affected whether the development is in town or out of town; the difference is with annexation, the town would be in position to manage the growth more effectively.
As for the disadvantages, Collier said those include the need for road improvements to handle increased traffic, the need for water system improvements and increased staffing needs. He said Milton’s growth areas are very limited but much of those areas are in the east of town, where The Granary would be located.
Wayne Fisher, a resident of Bangor Lane, which is adjacent to the development, said another potential disadvantage is the development’s effect on Diamond Pond, which runs close to the development and flows into the Broadkill River. Collier said Diamond Pond is not part of the annexation but that conservation of the area around the pond is a consideration in the annexation. Committee member Richard Trask added that environmental considerations would also be weighed by the Milton Planning and Zoning Commission during the site-plan review process.
Trask said if the development is built within the county, Milton would still have to pay for the increased services that would come from the development, such as public safety.
Collier said by accepting the annexation, it puts the town on notice that it should begin planning for how the town will pay for costs associated with the development.
“This is the largest annexation the town has ever considered,” he said.
Trask said, “I’m reasonably happy. I think it's well thought out and is well within what the town is trying to accomplish.”
Sean O’Neill, a policy scientist from the University of Delaware, said the town would benefit from annexing the property financially, over time. The development is projected to nearly double the number of houses and the size of Milton’s current population over the lifespan of development, with a potential 2,600 new residents by 2043.
O’Neill said there is much about the revenue projections that are unpredictable: market forces, the economy and the pace of building. He said the projections are largely based on the number of units planned per year over the course of 20 years.
“We spaced them out over the years, with some years being boom and some years being bust. Overall, it's the accumulation of those units,” O’Neill said.
The committee cancelled its Tuesday, Oct. 26 meeting after wrapping its discussions and is now prepared to present its findings to the Town Council, likely in November.