By a 3-2 vote at its July 18 meeting, Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of a controversial high-density rezoning for an apartment complex near the Nassau Bridge north of Lewes.
Nassau DE Acquisition Co. LLC has filed to rezone a 15-acre parcel near the intersection of Route 1 and Old Mill Road from AR-1, agricultural-residential, and C-2, medium commercial, to HR-1, high-density residential district-residential planned community.
The proposed project would consist of a small office building and 168 apartments in six buildings, including at least 21 units of affordable housing under the county affordable rental program.
Commissioners Bruce Mears, Keller Hopkins and Chairman Bob Wheatley voted in favor of the application.
Commissioners Kim Hoey Stevenson and Holly Wingate voted against it. The vote for approval came after Hoey Stevenson made a motion to deny the application. That motion was defeated 3-2. “I’m for affordable housing, but this area is so congested,” she said, adding additional traffic would have an adverse impact on the area.
“There is a need for affordable housing in Sussex County, but Sussex County must also consider whether a proposed development, especially high density, is appropriately located. In this case, there are just too many factors that are contrary to a high-density rezoning,” she said.
In the motion for approval, it was noted that the area was appropriate for high-density zoning under the county comprehensive plan. In addition, traffic impact would be minimized by proposed road improvements.
If approved, the developer would be required to make financial contributions for several road projects. State transportation officials plan to build a grade-separated interchange that includes service roads on both sides of Route 1 at the Old Mill Road and Minos Conaway Road intersections. The project is scheduled to be completed in spring 2025.
Second time around
Hopkins asked what had changed since the commission’s affirmative recommendation on a similar project at the site. On Nov. 29, 2018, the commission recommended approval of rezoning applications for two parcels for a 4,700-square-foot office building and 150 apartments.
Then on Dec. 11, county council members approved the commercial rezoning application for the office but denied the medium-density residential rezoning for the apartments saying land on the east side of Route 1 should remain low density.
The developer received an expedited review of the application as an incentive for participating in the affordable rental program.
Assistant county attorney Vince Robertson said the application has been changed to a high-density rezoning from a conditional use and commercial rezoning, and the number of units has increased from 150 to 168 units with at least 21 affordable units based on criteria established under the county's affordable rental program.
Low- and middle-income renters who apply to the program must live and work in Sussex County for at least a year to be eligible.
Hopkins made a motion for approval with a second by Mears. Reading the motion, Robertson said high-density development is appropriate in the Coastal Area because it meets criteria laid out in the comprehensive plan, including availability of central water and sewer, proximity to commercial and employment centers, and access to a major road. He said the plan promotes a variety of housing types in the Coastal Area, including multifamily housing.
According to the motion, the proposed project is in an area designated as an area of opportunity by the Delaware State Housing Authority. “The county comprehensive plan promotes the expansion of affordable housing in these areas,” Robertson read in the motion.
Among the conditions on the proposed project is a restriction that only 90 units can be constructed until the completion of the planned service road on the northbound lanes of Route 1. Other conditions prohibit construction on weekends during the summer months and provide for a forested buffer and 7-foot privacy fence between the proposed complex and Broeders Lane, the location of the closest homes to the property.
Proposed amenities include sports courts, a pool and clubhouse, which would have to be constructed before the building permit for the fourth building would be issued.
Commissioner: No high density
Hoey Stevenson said high-density zoning was not compatible with other uses, including single-family homes and small commercial businesses, in the area. She said lands east of Route 1 should remain predominately low density, adding there is no other high-density development in the area. “This is inconsistent with the county's land-use decisions east of Route 1 between Nassau and Milford,” she said.
She said the developer is seeking to shoehorn the development into a relatively small parcel. “It's a stand-alone development that has no uniformity to anything around it,” Hoey Stevenson said.
Many neighbors in the communities west of the proposed project who use Old Mill Road as access to Route 1 testified the project was out of character with the residential neighborhoods. In addition, they said increased traffic from the parcel would increase congestion and crashes at a dangerous intersection.
Sussex County Council’s public hearing on the application is at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 23, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.