The developer of Belle Terre, a proposed housing community along Mulberry Knoll Road, has submitted a new proposal, this time for a project that does not require rezoning the land.
Developer Sussex Real Estate Partners LLC has filed an application for a cluster subdivision of 269 single-family lots on 124 acres, which complies with the 2.17 units per acre allowed on agricultural-residential, AR-1, zoned land. Subdivision applications are not reviewed by county council; the planning and zoning commission has the final vote.
The developer had earlier applied to rezone the tract from AR-1 to medium-density, residential planned community, MR-RPC, to build 200 single-family homes and 178 duplexes, a total of 378 units, a density of 3 units per acre.
On Aug. 25 the county's planning and zoning commission recommended denial of the original application. The developer withdrew that application a week later.
At a Dec. 8 public hearing, the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission deferred its vote on the new application to a future meeting.
During the hearing, Jim Fuqua, the developer's attorney, said the original rezoning request was in line with the county's comprehensive land-use plan. “But that was not shared by the residents or planning and zoning commission,” he said.
Fuqua said area residents and the commission agreed the density and duplexes were out of character with other AR-1 zoned communities. “They were afraid it would establish an undesired precedent in the area,” he said. “Based on a clear message on Sept. 2, the applicant withdrew the application.”
Under the county's cluster ordinance, lot sizes on AR-1 zoned land can be reduced from a minimum of 20,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet. Fuqua said lots would average 8,800 square feet.
The land has been owned by the Dorman family since at least 1901, Fuqua said. “They have watched development go up all around them,” he said.
Nearby projects feature not only several housing projects but also the new Love Creek Elementary School, scheduled to open in 2017, and yet-to-be-built Delaware State Police Troop 7. Both projects would share boundaries with the proposed Belle Terre community.
According to the proposed site plan, the entrance would be off Mulberry Knoll Road to Dorman Road. If approved, the developer would be required to improve the entrance and frontage road and provide funding for a traffic signal and improvements at the Route 24/Mulberry Knoll Road intersection.
The parcel is bordered on the south by Hetty Fisher Pond and on the north and west by Hetty Fisher Glade, part of the Love Creek Natural Area. Fuqua said the developer would provide a minimum 50-foot buffer along all nontidal wetlands and a minimum 100-foot buffer along the pond's wetlands. In addition, he said, all trees around the pond would be preserved. Fuqua pointed out that buffers are not required by ordinance along nontidal wetlands.
The community would have a connecting walking path to the school, a clubhouse, pool, playground, walking trail and canoe and kayak launch.
Fuqua's presentation included reading a letter from William Zak, the most outspoken critic of the original application. At that time, Zak wrote that retaining AR-1 zoning would be a compromise everyone could accept.
But in his testimony at the hearing, Zak said he is still opposed to the application, even with AR-1 zoning.
“They are playing a shell game that does not address the issues raised in the upzone request,” he said. “There should be a different footprint, but this application is in very close proximity to the previous footprint. It's built out to the maximum possible density. It strikes me as no better than the old one.”
Zak said the only real difference, in his opinion, is the removal of the duplex units.
He said the reduced lot sizes allow for about five houses per acre on land where actual construction could occur, excluding wetlands and buffers. He said the cluster ordinance allows for 10-foot side and back yards and 25-foot front yards, which are out of character with other homes in the area with larger lot sizes and wider setbacks.
“I urge you send the developer back to the drawing board to scale back further,” Zak told the commission. “They are honoring the letter of the law and the not the spirit of the law. This is not a good-faith effort for the adjoining properties.”
Steve Britz, who lives in Webb's Landing, said he is concerned with deforestation and stormwater discharge to Hetty Fisher Glade. He said nearby Love Creek and the glade are already impaired with high levels of nitrogen and bacteria. “The developer should improve the water quality by leaving as much of the forested buffer as possible,” he said.
He said the commission should place a condition on the application that a wooded buffer of at least 100 feet be maintained along the wetlands of the glade.
NEW VS. OLD
New proposal: 269 single-family lots on 124 acres. Density = 2.17 units per acre
Old proposal: 378 mixed units on 124 acres. Density = 3.04 units per acre
Density is computed on overall acreage
Density for a parcel is computed on the total – or gross – acreage and not buildable acres.
Streets, amenities, buffers, stormwater management areas and wetlands are not counted when computing gross density in AR-1 zoned districts.