A standing-room-only crowd reacted to plans presented Oct. 25 to the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission for a 150-unit apartment complex and office building at the intersection of Old Mill Road and Route 1 north of the Nassau Bridge near Lewes. They also called for a traffic input study for the project.
Nassau DE Acquisition Co. LLC has filed applications to rezone a 12.5-acre parcel from AR-1, agricultural-residential, to MR, medium-density residential, rezone 3 acres from AR-1 to C-2 commercial and a conditional-use application for multifamily housing.
The developer's attorney laid out plans for the apartment complex in five, three-story buildings with amenities and a 4,700-square-foot office building.
John Tracey said a state study shows the demand for rental housing is high in the area. “The demand exceeds the supply; there is an increasing shortage,” he said.
Tracey said the study shows a shortage of 7,000 rental units statewide, and the county comprehensive plan shows a need for rental housing in the coastal area.
Residents who live adjacent to the proposed project testified the high-density project would be out of character with existing neighborhoods of single-family homes on three-quarter-acre lots.
Traffic in a unique location
Traffic surfaced as a major issue, as in many public hearings. But, as several residents pointed out, the proposed location along heavily traveled Route 1 has unique characteristics, including two Route 1 crossovers within a few hundred feet of one another and the nearby Nassau bridge.
Although the preliminary site plan showed access to Route 1 from the proposed site, several residents pointed out access is not permitted because the parcel is included in the state corridor capacity program.
Drew Boyce, Delaware Department of Transportation director of planning, agreed with residents. He said in the corridor, access to Route 1 is restricted and funneled to another road when possible, which is the case in this proposed project.
Vince Brady, who lives near the parcel, said the only access to the property would be Old Mill Road, the same road used by residents in the five communities near the proposed project.
“And that changes the traffic count,” he said.
The average daily traffic from the proposed complex onto a Route 1 access would have been 1,687 vehicles, which is under the 2,000-vehicle threshold for a mandatory developer-funded transportation impact study, Brady said.
Adding more than 700 daily vehicle trips from the surrounding communities puts the number above 2,400 and requires a traffic impact study. “And a study has not been presented to the planning and zoning commission,” he said.
Route 1 improvements
A major road improvement project is scheduled for Route 1 and the Minos Conaway intersection, which is just north of the Old Mill Road intersection.
Boyce said the project includes a moving Route 1 lanes west to allow for a two-way service road along the northbound lanes, which would pass in front of the proposed project and current businesses along Route 1.
To travel northbound, motorists would turn right using the service-road ramp. Motorists heading south would turn left and travel under the Nassau bridge onto another service road on the west side of Route 1. Boyce said that route will also provide access to Lewes via New Road.
The two highway crossovers will be eliminated. Boyce said construction is expected to start in 2022 and be completed in 2025.
Tracey said if the applications are approved, the project would be completed about the time road work begins. He said the developer would be required to make road improvements, including 11-foot travel lanes and 5-foot shoulders on a section of Old Mill Road and also contribute funds to the Route 1 project.
Residents express concerns
Two other applications in the area over the past 14 years were denied by county officials, including a housing project in 2004 and a mini-storage business in 2014.
George Delliger, who lives on Sandpiper Drive, said the reasons county officials used to deny the applications have not changed, just multiplied.
“There is no precedent, urgent requirement, greater-good purpose, or Sussex County Comprehensive Plan line-item or contingency that justifies this AR-1 commercialization and negative impact on existing AR-1 communities,” he said.
Local landowner Jim Landon, who lives next to the parcel on Broeders Drive, said he's had requests from developers to construct multifamily housing in the community. “It's not the right thing to do for the neighbors,” he said.
He said when his father and the Wright family started developing the existing communities, they saved as many trees as possible.
“Here they will bulldoze down three acres of oaks and tulip poplars. It took 50 years to grow them and will take 50 minutes to bring them down,” he said.
He said they would be removing a natural buffer along Old Mill Road.
Pete Best, an Oaks community resident, said the area is in a state investment Level 4 area, which is land set aside to support agriculture and to protect natural resources and the rural nature of the area. Best said the proposed project flies in the face of all these criteria.
He said no one would object to eight to nine single-family houses on three-quarter-acre lots, which fits in with the surrounding neighborhoods.
He said there are thousands of acres of land more suitable for a project of this type.
Attorney: Checks all the boxes
Todd Fisher and Mike Long, owners of a wooded parcel surrounded on three sides by the proposed project, voiced their support of the applications.
“DelDOT improvements will help traffic on Old Mill Road and the service road will really help,” Fisher said. He said there are seven commercial parcels near the proposed project.
Tracey said finding the ideal property for apartment projects is not always easy. He said a project requires central water and sewer, proximity to an arterial or major road, and must be near a town center or employment center. “This project checks all the boxes,” he said.
The complex would have a 20-foot forested buffer, storage units for each apartment and 75 garages, pool, clubhouse, sports courts, walking trail and sidewalks.
Tracey said the proposed project would bring different and more affordable housing to the county and reduce travel times for workers in the beach area. He said the proposed project is in the county's environmentally sensitive developing district, which is a growth zone.
He said he's aware of county planner concerns with the density of the project. “But it's not exceeding the permitted density,” he said.
The developer is associated with the Arbors of Cottagedale apartment complex off Plantation Road near Lewes, which will soon be under construction, and Coastal Station, a commercial center along Route 1 near Rehoboth Beach.
Record is left open
The commission voted to leave the record open for receipt of the developer's responses to state agency comments in the preliminary land-use service report. Once the responses are received, the record will be left open another 15 days for the public to submit written comments on the developer's responses.
The responses will be available at the county planning and zoning office, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.
County council has scheduled a public hearing on the three applications at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 27, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown. Planning and zoning commissioners will make a recommendation to council members, who will make the final decision.