State planners: Put hold on Freeman applications

Developer proposes mixed-use housing and commercial on 636-acre parcel west of Lewes
January 27, 2023

One of the largest projects ever proposed in Sussex County was reviewed by state officials during an Office of State Planning Coordination Preliminary Land Use Service meeting Jan. 25.

Carl M. Freeman Companies proposes to build Cool Spring, a mixed-use residential community with 2,000 units, including 950 single-family homes, 300 apartments and 750 duplexes/townhomes on a 636-acre parcel along several roads west of Lewes, including Log Cabin Hill Road, Cool Spring Road and Hudson Road with frontage along Route 9.

Also included on the preliminary site plan is a 70,500-square-foot assisted-living facility; 25,000 square feet of medical office space; a 23,875-square-foot hotel; a 34,500-square-foot YMCA; a 15,000-square-foot theater; 40,000 square feet for educational buildings; 42,450 square feet of retail space; a 31,525-square-foot restaurant; a 48,925-square-foot grocery store; and a 4,675-square-foot convenience store.

Open space, including passive and active recreation areas, stormwater management, green spaces, woods and wetlands, totals 250 acres.

If approved and built out in 10 to 20 years, the project would generate 30,703 vehicle trips on an average weekday.

According to the application, the developer would allow staff from the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office to visit the site to determine whether historical or cultural resources are on the parcel.

The plan includes 100-foot buffers along 30 acres of nontidal wetlands on the property.

Land-use amendment

For the project to proceed, Sussex County Council will have to vote favorably for an amendment to the county's future land-use map from the property's current low-density designation to coastal area to allow for high-density residential and commercial development.

In addition, the developer will have to file for a rezoning from AR-1, agricultural-residential, to MR-RPC, medium-density residential planned community, and a conditional-use application for multifamily, assisted-living and medical office space, said Sussex County planner Mike Lowrey.

A plan reviewed by PLUS in April 2021 has been modified and now contains 636 acres instead of 539 acres.

No public hearings have been scheduled yet before Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission and Sussex County Council.

“We do understand what needs to be done and that it's a requirement that the future land-use map supports this,” said Jim Fuqua, the applicant's attorney.

Fuqua said the applicant is aware of the Level 4 designation in the Strategies for State Policies as a rural area. However, he said, based on the surrounding area with residential subdivision, medial office and commercial areas along Route 9, the area is not rural in character.

“We are committed to working with agencies, the Office of State Planning Coordination and residents to design a superior master-planned community at this location,” he added.

State opposed to project

State planners are opposed to the project, issuing the following statement in the PLUS review:

“Based on our review of this plan and the 2018 Sussex comprehensive plan, the proposed development is inconsistent with this plan and cannot proceed. For this site plan to be considered, the county must propose a comprehensive plan amendment to the future land-use map, and such amendment must be reviewed and agreed upon with the state.

“These parcels are inconsistent with both the 2020 Strategies for State Policies and Spending and the 2018 Sussex County comprehensive plan. In addition, the state has serious concerns regarding the environmental impact of this proposal. Therefore, the state is opposed to the development of this project as proposed.”

In addition, state planner Dorothy Morris said state officials will recommend to county officials that this development, and any others that surface in this area, should be tabled until Delaware Department of Transportation officials conclude the Route 9 Coastal Corridors Study and the county can begin efforts with local and state agencies to determine the cumulative impact of development on the area and its roads.

Morris said it is not appropriate to consider amending the county's future-land use map before the study is completed.

Tree-removal concerns

The parcel includes 160 acres of woodlands and 30 acres of nontidal wetlands. According to the developer's PLUS application, 100 acres of woods will be cut down. Katherine Quinlan, representing Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said the agency has serious concerns about tree removal.

She said the agency recommends that a forest assessment be conducted to determine the location of any mature forest. In addition, she said, the parcel contains a unique Sandridge Forest area, which is a known habitat for rare plant species. “This habitat and the trees should be conserved as much as possible,” she said.

She also requested the developer allow a site visit by DNREC staff to survey the area.

Public comment

During the public comment period, Milton resident Jeff Seemans said, “This represents everything that is wrong with the land-development approval process in Sussex County. With 42 years of experience in this business, this is the worst plan I have ever seen.”

For example, he said, there are 19 separate stormwater management areas that will basically take up all of the open space in the project. “And the forest destruction is unbelievable,” he added.

Morris said public comments are not part of the PLUS submittal to the county.

“It's imperative that you show up at county meetings,” she said.

About Carl M. Freeman

Carl M. Freeman Companies has been in the development business since the 1970s. Among its communities are The Village at Bear Trap Dunes, Sea Colony and Bayside, all in southeastern Sussex County. Recently, the company has two ongoing projects in the Lewes area with Tidewater Landing, a 213-single-family-home community along Robinsonville Road, and Tower Hill, a 292-single-family-home subdivision along New Road.


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