Savannah Road rezoning request draws debate

Developer proposes 24 multifamily condominium units on 6-acre parcel
June 11, 2019

Members of the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission did not agree with opponents who said a proposed housing project along Savannah Road near Lewes does not meet multifamily housing requirements and should be denied.

Opponents say the proposed multifamily housing project is not consistent with other single-family communities in the area.

Jim Fuqua, the property owners' attorney, said the proposed project is consistent with the county comprehensive land-use plan, which promotes a variety of housing types in the Coastal Area. “This is a perfect example of infill between lands already developed that is surrounded by residential areas,” he said.

Robert M. and Deborah A. Reed of Rehoboth Beach have filed a rezoning application from AR-1, agricultural-residential, to MR, medium-density residential, and a conditional-use application for multifamily housing on a 6-acre parcel at 1525 Savannah Road near Lewes.

At commission’s May 9 public hearing, Fuqua said the proposed project would contain 24 single-family detached condominium units.

Commission Chairman Bob Wheatley wanted to make it clear that county code considers condominium units as multifamily housing. “Even if the structure looks like a single-family home, condominiums are a way to own property or real estate and they are not a building,” he said. “The ordinance is what rules.”

Apartments and duplexes are also considered multifamily dwellings.

Council denied an application on Aug. 8, 2017, for a fitness and therapy center for the same parcel.

Jan Allmaras, speaking on behalf of several Villages of Five Points East Village residents, said the proposed project would exceed lot and yard requirements even for high-density zoning. “The issue is that they would not get as many lots following MR zoning subdivision regulations,” Allmaras said.

“That it does not meet the multifamily definition should be a show stopper,” said Villages of Five Points resident Robert Viscount. “It exceeds lot and yard requirements and is not consistent with the surrounding residential community.”

Viscount said the project would result in a wall of housing backed up against the Villages of Five Points.

Fuqua said the proposed project is not high density but medium density, allowing up to 4 units per acre. He said the structures are single-family condominiums without lot lines as allowed under county code with the parcel considered common ground and maintained by a condominium association.

“This is the way the code has been interpreted as long as I can remember,” the attorney said. “This is not new or unique. There are projects approved with a conditional use being constructed today.”

“The whole property is considered a lot subject to the code's required setbacks and bulk requirements,” said assistant county attorney Vince Robertson.


Compromise to developer

Allmaras said residents had offered a compromise proposal to the developer in April that includes a reduction in the number of units from 24 to 18 to allow for more open space between the adjacent Villages of Five Points and Covey Creek neighborhoods.

Other compromise items offered by residents include: height restriction to 26 feet; constructed as single-family homes and not condominiums; a minimum of 50 feet between the proposed development and adjacent communities; and conditions based on an Old Orchard Road duplex conditional-use project approval for 24 units on 9 acres.

She said residents presented conditions that mirror the Old Orchard approval.

Allmaras said residents were excited when they learned a residential project had been proposed for the parcel, but not for the proposed application. “We are seeking reasonable and responsible development that is consistent with the surrounding area,” she said, adding there are no other multifamily communities in the immediate area.

Fuqua said the compromise items do not follow county code. He said the proposed height restriction of 26 feet is 16 feet less than what is permitted in MR and AR-1 zoning districts and a 50-foot rear setback is 40 feet more than required. “The opponents want to rewrite the zoning ordinance to only apply to the Reed's 6-acre parcel. It's reverse spot zoning,” he said.

Fuqua disputed the opponents' claim that inadequate buffers are proposed. Fuqua said the developer would agree to a 20-foot landscaped buffer around the perimeter of the property when code requires a 10-foot buffer. In addition, he said, adding in setbacks and two landscaped buffers, the closest homes in the proposed development and Villages of Five Points would be 75 feet apart.

Fuqua said opponents ignore the reality of the situation when they say say the proposed project does not fit in with the character of the area. “There is no factual basis. They are disregarding reality,” he said.

He said there are four approved conditional-use applications near the property and numerous others along Savannah Road. He said there are a variety of zoning districts including C-1 and B-1, both commercial districts, in the area.

The Villages of Five Points is a 180-acre mixed-use, residential planned community with 260 single-family homes, 144 apartments, 110 townhouses, 72 condominiums and two shopping areas, he said.

The proposed community would have central water and sewer, sidewalks in front of all houses and a shared-use path along the front of the property along Savannah Road. Two parking spaces, plus one garage space, would be provided for each unit. The units would range in width from 36 feet to 40 feet and would be one and two stories.

The commission deferred a vote to a future meeting. Sussex County Council's public hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 18, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.





Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter