Milton Town Council unanimously approved sending an annexation request for a 400-plus-acre parcel on Sand Hill Road to the town’s special review committee.
The committee will begin meeting to discuss the application Thursday, July 29. An agenda has not yet been released.
While sending the matter to the committee was somewhat of a formality, citizens spoke out at council’s July 12 meeting lamenting the scale of the development, using both words and, in one case, song to express themselves. Town officials, however, believe that having the development annexed into Milton is the best way to control it.
The developer, Convergence Communities, is proposing to annex a 450-acre parcel between Sand Hill Road and Gravel Hill Road for the express purpose of building The Granary at Draper Farm, a 1,350-unit residential development, so named because the land had been owned by members of the Draper family.
The Granary would also include park space, 60,000 square feet of potential commercial space and a walking trail. Convergence Communities plans to build an underground tunnel under Sand Hill Road from the development in order to connect to the town’s existing Rails to Trails.
The land has been owned by the Cox family for 80 years, and Convergence Communities co-founder Colby Cox has said the company plans to build out the development over a 20-year period.
Milton residents and property owners at town council’s July 12 meeting were concerned about the effect of such a large development on the town.
As part of his comments, Hank Bonk of 16046 Lavinia St. played the Counting Crows version of Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” with its chorus of “Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone/They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Victor Artucher of 15775 Lavinia St., located at the corner of Sand Hill Road, said he was concerned that noise and traffic from construction would disturb the quality of life for him and other residents in that area.
A number of residents of Bangor Lane, located off Sand Hill Road adjacent to the proposed development, also spoke out about The Granary at the July 12 meeting.
Nora Martin of 131 Bangor Lane said, “Just the other day it took me about seven minutes to get out onto Sand Hill Road. I can’t imagine what it will be like when 1,300 homes are added with the existing infrastructure. My concern is the traffic. I know it’s going to happen, but I urge the council to scale back. We need to slow it down.”
Michael Camasso of 113 Bangor Lane said the town should activate its sustainability committee and land acquisition committee to dive into questions related to the annexation process.
“They should be working on a project that plans to double the size of your city,” he said.
William Kirk of 101 Bangor Lane said while there doesn't appear to be much to be done to stop The Granary at Draper Farm from happening, he did not want Bangor Lane to be annexed into town just to make drawing its borders easier.
Mayor Ted Kanakos said there are no plans for the town to annex Bangor Lane, and that the development could happen regardless of the town’s actions. If the developer so chose, they could go right now to Sussex County Council and Planning and Zoning, and get approval for a development with much higher density. He said through annexation, the town can put guardrails on the development, control its pace and oversee a public process. Kanakos said the developer has already scaled back plans from an originally proposed 1,600 units to 1,300 units, a sign that Convergence Communities is willing to listen.
“I don’t want to see a development so large that Milton becomes a neighborhood of that development,” he said.
Those comments were echoed by Milton resident Keith Steck of 210 Lavinia St., a frequent attendee at county council and planning meetings. He said it will be better for everybody if the town is in charge rather than the county.
“People have to understand that the town of Milton will have more control over this community, more say in what will happen with it than if we leave it to the county. If you aren’t familiar with how the county operates, go to a county planning and zoning commission meeting. Watch how they disrespect the public when they object to things, and watch the decisions they make. It’s an eye-opening experience. The county makes a lot of decisions that are not in the best interests of the local communities. I trust those here in this town to make decisions. They have the best interests of the town’s residents when they make decisions,” Steck said.
For his part, Cox has said he welcomes the input from the community.
“The community will be well served by introducing a project that seeks to embrace the vitality of Milton versus being a subdivision on its outskirts,” he said. “We expect the process to be a mutual exchange of ideas that make our proposed community a significant benefit to Milton and its residents. Some of those benefits will be enhanced infrastructure for emergency services, as well as public amenities such as parks and recreational fields.”
The Milton Special Review Committee will have 120 days to review the annexation request and create a report for town council. Kanakos encouraged residents to attend the committee meetings and those held by Milton Planning and Zoning Commission to provide input on positive changes to the plan.