A planned 175-unit senior-living facility off Kings Highway Lewes has cleared its first hurdle.
The Lewes Planning Commission recommended mayor and city council approve a rezoning request from Ocean Atlantic Companies and Vantage Point Retirement Services LLC for a 9.34-acre parcel along Kings Highway. However, commissioners recommended denial for the rezoning of an adjacent 7.11 acres for a limited commercial use.
Developers are seeking to subdivide a 16.45-acre large parcel into two pieces, then rezone a portion along Kings Highway from R-2, low-density residential, to Community Facilities Health Care and a second area along Savannah Road from R-2 to LC, limited commercial. Preston Schell, president of Ocean Atlantic, says he plans to build a senior-living facility on the Kings Highway parcel. The three-floor facility would have 80 independent-living units, 63 assisted-living units and 32 memory care units. Two nearly 30,000-square-foot medical and professional office buildings are planned for the Savannah Road side.
“Greg Stevens [of Vantage Point] and I were very happy to see the planning commission and many members of the audience embrace our senior-living concept and acknowledge the current and growing need for that type of housing in Lewes,” Schell said. “While I’m a bit disappointed they did not look favorably upon our request for limited commercial for the other 7 acres, I appreciate their willingness to share their ideas on a more appropriate use of that land focused on more affordable, workforce housing.”
Residents of the neighboring Henlopen Gardens community spoke nearly unanimously against the proposal for medical office buildings along Savannah Road, but some were open to the senior-living facility concept.
Jim Fuqua, attorney representing Ocean Atlantic and Vantage Point, said a senior-living facility should generate less traffic than a typical residential development because memory care and most assisted-living residents do not drive. Fuqua said shuttles and car services will be offered to residents.
Still, a common thread among residents was the potential for increased traffic on both Kings Highway and Savannah Road.
“The proposal is lovely, but you can’t look at it in a vacuum,” said Henlopen Gardens resident Sandy Bendetti. “We have a high school. We have a grade school. We have a shopping center coming. We have tourists. We have bike riders. We have traffic and people all around us.”
Carroll Snyder, president of the Henlopen Gardens homeowners association, said his residents are worried the rezoning and subsequent development could lower property values and increase stormwater runoff.
“We are not opposed to development in this parcel,” he said. “When we moved in here, the parcel was R-2. Some of our people were very pleased it was R-2; they would like to have homes contiguous to them.”
Schell said he does not believe Lewes needs more single-family homes. Before applying for rezoning, he said, he commissioned a market study with HTG Consultants LLC, a national senior-living consulting firm, which found the area is in need of more housing options for seniors looking to downsize. He said about 85 percent of the people who buy Schell Brothers homes are 55 and older.
“The last thing we need and the last thing the city of Lewes needs is a guy like me building more large-lot single-family homes,” Schell said. “It’s simple for me to just do single-family homes … but it would be a huge missed opportunity for the aging population in Lewes.”
Fuqua reinforced the need for a senior-living facility by pointing to census numbers. According to the 2010 census, 14.4 percent of Delaware’s population is over age 65. In Sussex County, seniors represent 20.8 percent of the population, while in Lewes, 43.6 percent of residents are more than 65 years old. The median age for the state is 39, and Sussex County’s is 45. The median age in Lewes is 63.
Former planning commission member Barbara Vaughan, who recently stepped down, told commissioners they need to be good stewards of Lewes’ future, and that means more senior-living options.
“I think accommodating the older population is a social responsibility,” she said. “Lewes has always been on the cutting edge of thinking about what is good for the community and what is good for the people who will be living here.”
Commissioners voted 7-0 to recommend approval of the community facilities health care rezoning request. Commissioners voted 6-1 to recommend denial of the limited commercial zoning. The lone vote in favor was Joe Hoechner, who said he sees no problem with the proposed medical offices and that it would be convenient to have doctors next door to the senior-living facility.
Many residents and most planning commission members said they would prefer affordable/workforce housing on the 7.11-acre parcel.
“There are lots of medical offices in the area. I’m not quite sure why there’s a huge need for more,” said commission member Nina Cannata.
“I think the community would be better served by having affordable housing available,” said commission member Drew McKay. “I think there is a tremendous market for this at this time.”
Schell said he was open to considering developing workforce/affordable housing as an alternative.
“I’m not averse to doing something like Henlopen Gardens on the 7.11 acres as a concept,” Schell said. “I do kind of have an aversion to single-family homes just because I don’t think it makes any sense, and I don’t think it does anything for affordability.”
The average single-family home in Sussex County is more than $600,000, he said.
“[Workforce housing] could be something someone working at Beebe and someone who’s a teacher could likely afford,” he said.