Route 1 upzoning opponents: Safety is critical

Developer seeks 168 apartments off Old Mill Road
July 5, 2019

A developer seeking to build apartments north of Lewes on Route 1 near Old Mill Road is back before Sussex County officials, this time with a revised plan that requires high-density rezoning.

The new plan for 168 apartments was met with the same traffic and density concerns expressed by residents who live in developments behind the property during an earlier public hearing when the project called for 150 apartments and an office building.

The rezoning for the apartments in the original application was rejected by Sussex County Council.

Nassau DE Acquisition Co. LLC has filed an application to rezone a 15-acre parcel from AR-1, agricultural-residential, to H-1, high-density residential, with a residential planned community overlay zone. HR-1 zoning allows up to 12 units per acre, while AR-1 zoning allows two.

During a 2 1/2-hour June 27 Sussex County Planning Commission public hearing, John Tracey, the developer's attorney, said 21 of the 168 units would be affordable apartments under the Sussex County affordable rental program.

In addition, the proposed project includes a sales-lease office fronting Route 1.

Nearby residents who live adjacent to and behind the parcel testified the proposed apartment complex would exacerbate an already dangerous situation at the intersection they use to access Route 1, some making strong pleas to the commission to deny the application.

Bill Landon, who lives on Landon Road across from the property, said, “If you upgrade the zoning, you will see some deaths there. Trying to do the same thing twice and increasing the density. That's beyond insanity.”

Landon said traffic counts used to determine the impact of the proposed project do not include existing traffic from the more than 60 homes in developments off Old Mill Road. He said area residents want the land to remain residential. “No one in the community wants this,” he said.

Landon said two or even four units to an acre would be reasonable, but 12 units to an acre would be crazy. “I can't believe I'm begging you not to do this,” he said.

Vince Brady, who lives on Oak Drive, called the application one of the worst ever presented to the planning and zoning commission. “It relies on the promises of others, only benefits the petitioners, it makes losers of the citizens and endangers the motoring public,” he said.

He said the proposed project is highly dependent on the Minos Conaway interchange project. “There is no one in this room or in Sussex County who has the authority over this project,” he said. “It could be delayed, canceled or modified at will by state authorities due to any variety of factors at any time.”

Access to Route 1 draws debate

Access to the development would be from Old Mill Road and Route 1. However, until the Minos Conaway Road-Route 1 grade-separated interchange work is complete, expected in spring 2025, vehicles entering or leaving the development to or from Route 1 would be restricted to right-in, right-out turns only.

When the interchange work is complete, new service roads – parallel to and on both sides of Route 1 – will provide access to the highway from Old Mill Road, Minos Conaway Road and parcels near Nassau Bridge.

Until the service road is complete, Delaware Department of Transportation officials are exploring the idea of eliminating the crossover at Old Mill Road and Route 1.

DelDOT planner Jennifer Cinelli said plans to improve crossovers on Route 1 are evolving. “Every crossover from Prime Hook Road to Tulip Drive is under evaluation because of traffic volume and the number of accidents,” she said.

She said it's possible the Old Mill Road crossover could be removed, meaning motorists exiting Old Mill Road could only turn right heading northbound on Route 1. In order to go south, motorists would have to merge and make a U-turn at a crossover north of Old Mill Road.

“We've found that making U-turns is safer than going across four lanes of Route 1,” Cinelli said.

“Developers with large projects will make significant contributions to improvements,” Cinelli said. “It will be painful before the big projects get on line.”

Those big projects include grade-separated interchanges at three Route 1 intersections: Route 16, Cave Neck Road and Minos Conaway Road.

Residents express concerns

Many residents said if the commission is considering recommending approval, they should at least force the developer to delay the project until after the grade-separated interchange work is completed.

Resident Kathy Murphy said area traffic was well past the tipping point of public safety. “I disagree that this project will be a bit painful for a few years. It's unsafe and irresponsible,” she said.

Resident Erwin Villiger said the rezoning is not consistent with the county comprehensive land-use plan for the Coastal Area because it would not be in keeping with surrounding uses. “All housing is low to medium density,” he said. “There is a place for this kind of development, but it's not this place, though. It can be used to justify other high-density development in the area. It fundamentally impacts the character of the community.”

Lisa Bartels, who lives on Old Mill Road, said runoff from a large impermeable parking lot and other impermeable surfaces could affect residents' wells. “Please protect the current residents. This is an established community on AR-1, forested land. There is no doubt this high density will change and disrupt our lives,” she said. “Adding hundreds of new residents to this area could be a very poor decision if not done correctly and could leave our neighborhood and our entrance a disaster.”

Attorney: Rental demand high

Tracey said he is aware of only one other approved project in the county rental program, Coastal Tide, under construction off Plantation Road by the same developer.

Tracey said more people are seeking apartments and affordable housing. “The rental population has exploded, and there is a shortage. There are more renters than in recent history. There is a demand for smaller, more affordable rental units,” he said.

He said according to Delaware State Housing Authority housing needs assessment, workers in the healthcare, retail and tourism industries, many of whom work in eastern Sussex, face housing challenges. “There is a significant need for workforce housing,” he said. He said the authority supports the project because the need for rental housing is acute and well documented.

New plan has revisions

The project calls for six, three-story, 42-foot buildings with a clubhouse, pool and sports courts.

Tracey said the developer has revised the original plans based on neighbors' concerns from the previous hearing to include an enhanced vegetated buffer with a 6-foot privacy fence along the rear of the property along Broeders Drive. A row of garages along the rear at the property has been removed to make way for the buffer and the orientation of some buildings has been changed.

On Nov. 29, 2018, the commission recommended approval of the original rezoning applications for two parcels – AR-1 to C-2, medium commercial, for a 4,700-square-foot office building and AR-1 to MR, medium-density residential, for 150 apartments. On Dec. 11, county council members approved the commercial rezoning application but denied the MR rezoning application saying land on the east side of Route 1 should remain low-density.

The commission deferred a vote to a future meeting. County council's public hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 23, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown. The commission makes recommendations to the council, which has the final say.

Residents call for traffic impact study

County attorney says service road will resolve problems

Nicole Kline, traffic consultant for developer Nassau DE Acquisition Co. LLC, said 30,000 vehicles per day drive on Route 1 in the area of the Nassau bridge. She said traffic from the proposed 168-unit apartment complex off Old Mill Road would generate 914 vehicle trips per day in and out of the complex, with 73 trips an hour during the peak afternoon drive time.

She said DelDOT would not require a traffic impact study if Sussex officials agree. Data exists from studies completed for the Minos Conaway interchange project. She said the developer would be required to participate in a traffic operational analysis study.

“The developer would still be responsible to mitigate traffic issues,” she said, including improving Old Mill Road to the entrance of the proposed project with 11-foot travel lanes and 5-foot shoulders and eventually connecting the road to the frontage road.

Resident George Dellinger objected to that plan. He said there is a big difference between a traffic impact study and a traffic operational study. He said an operational study is completed after approval is granted, while an impact study is completed before a decision is made. “For whatever reason, the existing traffic is not included. In this case, the cumulative traffic is being ignored,” he said.

He, and other area residents, said the commission should require the developer to complete a traffic impact study that includes traffic counts from new communities. “DelDOT's job is to provide access – not safe access,” Dellinger said. “You need a TIS to find out what's safe. I think you'll find it's a service road.”

Assistant county attorney Vince Robertson said traffic officials have stated on the record that northbound and southbound separated service roads would allow motorists to go both ways, resolving residents' concerns about the Old Mill Road intersection.

“If I've got to defend the record this county has in front of some Superior Court judge, how do I say everything that folks are talking about current traffic really impacts the decision on this application?” he asked Dellinger. “I'd like to hear about that because that's the $10 million question in all of this that some judge is going to ask me if I have to defend a denial,” he said.

“It's the safety issues before the road is completed,” Dellinger replied. “It's dangerous today and increased trips make it lethal.”

Dellinger pointed to the fiscal 2020 Sussex County budget where $29 million, or more than half of the county operating budget, is devoted to public safety. “Ignoring safety to make a land-use decision is not consistent with your mission statement,” he said.

He said the commission has several options including denial and requiring a traffic impact study, and if the rezoning is approved, the commission could require that that no construction occur until after Route 1 roadwork is completed and the service road is operational.

Robertson said a condition placed on the previous application was that no more than 90 units could be constructed until the service road was completed. “We have a memorandum of understanding with DelDOT, so we can phase work based on DelDOT improvements,” he said.

“We would prefer not to do that,” replied the developer's attorney, John Tracey, adding the construction of the complex and DelDOT's work on Route 1 would not be completed at the same time.

Tracey said it would not only delay construction of affordable units that must be spread out throughout the complex and extend construction time, which would be a burden on the applicant and the neighbors.


Highlights of the affordable rental program:

• Tenants must live and work in Sussex County for one year preceding an application.

• Lease agreements are renewed annually.

• Rental units must be maintained as affordable units in the program for 30 years. At least 12.5 percent of total units must be affordable under the program.

• Projects can be any size.

• The developer or property manager is responsible for determining whether applicants qualify.

• Rental rates for each bedroom-sized apartment are fixed and based on household income and household size with 25 percent of income paid for housing. For example, monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment with three people would be $680.

• Qualified tenants must earn between 30 and 80 percent of area median income. For example, a couple's Applicants can't be convicted of a felony.

• Tenants must pay the first month's rent and security deposit

• Satisfactory credit history and criminal background check if required of leases in the apartment complex.

• The apartment must remain as the primary residence during the lease period.

• Developer gets expedited review and 20 percent bonus density, not to exceed 12 units per acre.

To hear audio of the public hearing go to:


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