The owner of 22 acres of the former Howeth Farm property along Route 24 has plans to build a townhome project.
J.G. Townsend Jr. & Company has filed three applications for School Lane, an 84-unit multifamily housing community, including a rezoning from AR-1, agricultural-residential, to MR, medium-density residential, a conditional use for multifamily housing and a requested change to the county's future land-use map designation to include all of the parcel in the coastal area.
The parcel is located between Love Creek Elementary School and the Saddle Ridge and Four Seasons at Belle Terre communities.
Access to the parcel would be a connection to the Love Creek school entrance, which as a traffic signal along Route 24.
A public hearing before Sussex County Planning & Zoning was held June 23. Following the hearing, the commission deferred a vote on three applications to a future meeting.
Plans for project
The proposed plan includes central water and sewer service, a shared-use path, sidewalks, two parking spaces per unit with overflow parking, a pool, a bathhouse and a sports field area. The proposed open space is 11 acres, or 52% of the total parcel.
A 20-foot landscaped buffer is included along the boundaries with Saddle Ridge, Belle Terre and Love Creek school. The site plan includes 14 two-story buildings comprising six units each.
A 50-foot buffer is planned along a small area of wetlands adjacent to the Saddle Ridge community.
The project is included in the Henlopen Transportation Improvement District, and the owner would be required to contribute a fee per lot, totaling $341,796, for road improvement projects in the district. The fee must be paid prior to issuance of any building permits.
The Delaware Department of Transportation has plans to widen Route 24 and provide turn lanes from the Mulberry Knoll intersection to Love Creek. A traffic signal will be constructed at the Mulberry Knoll Road-Route 24 intersection. The project is projected to be completed in 2024.
The proposed School Lane project is estimated to generate 594 vehicle trips per day.
Traffic and multifamily housing
David Hutt, the owner's attorney, said DelDOT planners said the traffic impact from the proposed community would be minor. Hutt said several letters and emails in the public record voiced concern with multifamily housing built adjacent to a school.
He provided several maps showing several multifamily communities adjacent to Cape Henlopen High School, H.O. Brittingham Elementary School in Milton, Rehoboth Elementary School, East Millsboro Elementary School and Mariner Middle School in Milton.
Residents who testified during the hearing voiced concerns with traffic along Route 24, safety for children at the two schools along the roadway, the shared driveway access with the school, removal of a four-acre wooded area on the parcel, units being rented, and the rezoning of the property for higher-density housing.
Several residents said the project should be scaled down to two units per acre under the current AR-1 zoning.
Kenny Delmar of Hart's Landing said his background in real estate indicates that building housing next to an elementary school is not good business. “Two weeks ago we hit the [housing] ceiling. Mark my words that from here on it's going to be harder and harder to make a profit from residential development,” he said.
Thomas Negrin, a Belle Terre resident, said traffic will increase in an already congested area and he's concerned with the safety of students. He suggested the county purchase the property and develop a recreation area. “Adjacent to a school is a perfect location,” he said.
Martha Eisenhour, who has lived in the area for 43 years, said the owner can build 43 homes under the current AR-1 zoning and preserve the woodlands. “There is so much destroyed woodlands the animals have nowhere to go, and they are coming into our yards,” she said.
Sussex County Council has scheduled a public hearing on the applications at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 26.