Sussex P&Z hears plans for Black Oak project

127-lot subdivision on New Road includes tree preservation and wide wetland buffers
September 2, 2022

Story Location:
New Road
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

At its Aug. 25 meeting, Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission heard plans for a new subdivision along New Road just outside Lewes city limits.

Developer Glenwood Lewes LLC of Rehoboth Beach has filed an application for a cluster subdivision now known as Black Oak with 127 single-family home lots on a 77-acre parcel.

The property is bordered on the north and northeast by Black Oak Gut and Prettyman Branch. Large buffers and tree preservation are planned for the area, which contains nearly 19 acres of wetlands, including 11 tidal acres and 7.92 non-tidal acres.

The developer's attorney, Jim Fuqua, said the developer has modified the original site plan to keep more mature trees in the buffer area in the northern section of the parcel. That resulted in the reduction of four building lots. “Most trees in the buffer will now be preserved,” he said.

A tree survey was also conducted, he said, to identity every mature tree 5 feet in diameter at chest height on the site.

Fuqua said the average buffer along non-tidal waters and wetlands would be 130 feet and the average buffer along tidal areas will be 261 feet. In addition, a conservation easement would be in place to protect the buffers, with penalties included for violations of the easement. A tree preservation covenant prohibiting the removal of trees would also be in place.

Fuqua said the developer would donate one-half of 1% of gross lot sales at time of settlement to Sussex County Land Trust.

At the end of the hearing, the commission voted to defer a vote to a future agenda. Subdivision applications are only acted on by the commission.

Subdivision plans

The proposed subdivision is part of a development spurt along New Road, with construction underway on Tower Hill, with 292 lots on 134 acres, and Lewes Waterfront Preserve, with 89 townhomes on 34 acres, as well as 10 single-family home sites in front of the Black Oak property.

Plans include 127 lots averaging more than 9,000 square feet, a community recreation area with two pickleball courts, a pool, clubhouse, outdoor fireplace and parking area. An existing kayak launch would be used for kayaks and paddleboarders. The plan includes 42 acres of open space, including buffers.

Water service would be provided by Tidewater Utilities and sewer service by Sussex County with connection to a regional pump station.

Fuqua said a proposed restrictive covenant would restrict fertilizer and other yard-treatment applications by homeowners with applications only by a certified and licensed environmental consultant.

The developer would be required to improve New Road along the property frontage and make a financial contribution as determined by Delaware Department of Transportation officials to the Minos Conaway-Route 1 interchange project and improvements at the Old Orchard Road-New Road intersection.

Fuqua said because of 10 building lots along New Road, which are not part of the Black Oak proposal, road frontage is limited. He said the developer has proposed to build a shared-use path along Black Oak property as well as the 10 lots. That plan is subject to DelDOT approval.

Survey of property

A Phase 1 archeological survey has been conducted on the property, Fuqua said, which is part of a larger parcel known as the Tower Hill Patent owned by the Duke of York, dating back to 1676. The Tower Hill subdivision, which is under construction, was also part of the patent. Fuqua said the developer was not required to conduct a survey but chose to do one because of the unique and special history of the parcel.

The attorney said a field and woodlands survey resulted in artifacts from early settlers and Native Americans. He said all reports will be submitted to state officials, the Nanticoke Indians and other interested parties.

Fuqua said evidence was found of farming operations including the possible location of the Thomas Gray house on the property, which dates from 1770-83.

He said the developer has approved further research of the site by Edward Otter Inc. Otter, who has masters and Ph.D. degrees in anthropology/archeology, said using ground-penetrating radar, they are hoping to find remains of the house's foundation or other indicators showing where the farmhouse would be located. “There are not a lot of sites like this in the county from this time era,” Otter said. “Most get built over, or no investigation is done. We don't get a lot of opportunities to learn about people who lived in that period.”

Residents voice concerns

Jill Hicks, a resident of Chapel Green near Lewes, commended the developer for conducting a tree survey, extending the buffers area and removing lots from wetlands areas.

However, she said, a lot is at stake pertaining to water quality with a section in the southwest corner of the property in a state-designated excellent water recharge area.

“I’m concerned about the effect on the Broadkill River watershed,” she said, noting that Delaware is the worst state in the nation for water quality, with 90% of the state’s waterways listed as polluted.

She said an environmental assessment report should be done to ensure that post-development recharge quality will meet or exceed pre-development water quality. She said the report should contain a calculation of impervious surface in the recharge area, which is limited by county code, and the HOA should have a restrictive covenant on how much impervious surface is permitted in the area.

Hank Faust, who lives near the wetlands areas on the parcel, said people are concerned about the amount of woodlands being destroyed as the New Road area is developed. “I’ve seen a lot of trees torn down, and at Tower Hill a lot more were removed than anticipated,” he said.

He suggested the wooded area on the Black Oak parcel be preserved, with development restricted to the 28 acres of the parcel with no trees.

Faust said current county code does not reflect the needs of the area. “So much density is overwhelming for the area, impacting traffic and medical facilities,” he said. “The hospital is overwhelmed all the time; Beebe is at 110% capacity all the time. This growth is not sustainable. The health of citizens is being impacted.”


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