With hundreds of undeveloped acres sitting just outside the city limits of Lewes, mayor and city council have adopted new zoning regulations to entice landowners and developers to become part of Lewes.
At their May 14 meeting, Lewes officials unanimously approved two new zones, which are available exclusively to annexed land. The zones – one for residential and one for a mix of residential and commercial – were developed over the last year by an ad hoc committee; each zone offers regulations that are more lenient than the city’s, but more strict than what’s allowed under Sussex County regulations.
“We have two choices. We can either try to bring people into the city or we can just walk away from annexation and let the county do whatever it wants to do,” said Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait, who chaired the annexation committee. “If we don’t do something, that’s what’s going to happen.”
The new residential zone provides three options for developers. They can develop a subdivision under conventional 20,000-square-foot lots or choose from two cluster options. The first cluster option allows 7,500-square-foot single-family lots or 8,000-square-foot two-family dwelling lots. Under that option, a developer is required to dedicate 30 percent of the total parcel to open space.
Under the second cluster option, a developer can build a subdivision with 5,000-square-foot single-family lots or 6,000-square-foot two-family dwelling lots, but they are required to dedicate 50 percent of the total parcel to open space. Under this option, the zoning allows up to 30 percent more units than otherwise permitted.
“I don’t see this as just putting the county into the city,” Beaufait said. “There are some substantive differences. It is a transition.”
The county’s cluster option allows a developer to build 7,500-square-foot lots with 30 percent open space. A developer may purchase more density for townhouses or multifamily homes in excess of two units per acre.
Beaufait said the allowed density differs from county zoning, yet the city is a little more strict in terms of maximum building height, requirements for sidewalks and what’s permitted in the new zones.
A developer is allowed to build townhouses and two-family homes in the new residential zone only via a cluster option.
Among permitted uses in the new mixed zone are restaurants, colleges and universities, hospitals, places of worship and a variety of housing options. A number of uses could be permitted through conditional use, including shopping centers up to 20,000 square feet, daycare centers, banks and service establishments. Gas stations, car sales and car repair shops are not permitted.
Councilman Dennis Reardon said the new annexation zones should bring more land into the city and, in turn, give the city a louder voice with the Department of Transportation.
“When we deal with what’s happening on those roadways with DelDOT, we’ll have a lot more clout at the table,” he said. “What we have on New Road and Kings Highway right now is very small. If we could get property on either side of those roadways, then that gives us more clout.”
City Planner Tom West said county zoning laws are likely to change as part of its extensive comprehensive plan update. One major change anticipated is the elimination of the C-1 commercial zone. He said he’s keeping an eye on the progress of county zoning regulations and will advise council if changes to their new zones are warranted.
The new zones are the latest in an ongoing effort to draw more interest in annexation. In 2017, council approved a recommendation to waive property taxes for up to seven years for any undeveloped land that is annexed. If the property is developed within seven years, property taxes are levied upon the sale of the first parcel.
In November, council approved a recommendation to waive the annexation fee for five years.