An application for a convenience store in Angola drew little opposition at the Aug. 8 Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission hearing. That was not the case at the Sept. 17 Sussex County Council meeting.
Opponents packed council chambers to raise concerns over traffic and potential harm to the environment and water supply.
KH Sussex LLC has filed a conditional-use application for a 3,500-square-foot, 24-hour 7-Eleven store with eight gas and diesel pumps and 34 parking spaces on a 3.5-acre parcel on the south side of the Route 24-Angola Road intersection between Lewes and Long Neck.
At its Aug. 22 meeting, the planning and zoning commission recommended approval of the application. Previously, on Dec. 14, 2018, county council denied a rezoning of the parcel from AR-1, agricultural-residential, to C-3, heavy commercial. The planning and zoning commission had also recommended approval.
The developer filed an application for a conditional use. Dennis Schrader, the developer's attorney, said a conditional use allows planning and zoning and council to place conditions and restrictions on the project to safeguard the surrounding area.
Resident: Project an 'inconvenience'
Jens Wegscheider, who lives off Angola Road and is one of the most outspoken opponents, said the application is not a reasonable expansion of the existing conditional use. He said the existing use is more of a home-based business that adds almost no traffic to the corridor. He asked council to compare that to a business open 24 hours a day throughout the year. “It's out of scale for this rural intersection and does not belong there. It's not needed. I call it an inconvenience store,” he said.
Wegscheider said he has spent hours researching Sussex County's files relating to approved conditional-use applications and could find none that are similar. “This would be a most serious land-use precedent that the county would regret in the future,” he said.
Dennis Quenneville of Bay Ridge Woods said what many who testified against the application noted. He said there was no public outcry for a convenience store at the location when similar businesses exist less than 2 miles away. “There was no needs assessment. The site was picked because of its real estate value,” he said. “I see a whole bunch of red flags against it.”
Public record open for council
At the end of the nearly 3-hour public hearing, on recommendation of Councilman Doug Hudson of Dagsboro, council voted to leave the public record open until Wednesday, Oct. 2, to allow council members to pose questions to state agencies or county staff. State agencies and staff will have 30 days to respond to questions. Then, once responses are made available to council, the public will have five calendar days to comment in writing on the responses. That announcement will be made by Sussex County Planning and Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell at a council meeting.
Residents at the hearing asked for 10 days, but Council President Mike Vincent of Seaford said council's longstanding policy is five days.
Conditional use on parcel
By a previous conditional use, the parcel is already the site of marine storage and repair, Ennis Homes offices for home construction, and grass-cutting, landscaping and power-washing businesses.
Mike Riemann with Becker Morgan Group, the developer's engineer, said the site was chosen because of growth in the area and for convenience of area residents. “The site is already a commercial use,” he said.
Developer Kirk Salvo said the corner is a prime real estate site for a convenience store. When asked by council about the need for a 7-Eleven at the location, Salvo said, “We are investors and not speculators.”
He said a convenience store is the best use of the property. “I know there is a lot of concern, and we regret that it has upset neighbors, but we are here to see it through. This project has become a lightning rod for traffic issues in the area,” Salvo said.
Traffic and road work
Traffic was the main topic of conversation during the hearing.
Road work is planned to start in two years at the intersection where the proposed 7-Eleven would be located.
Delaware Department of Transportation officials have proposed improving the Route 24-Angola Road-Robinsonville Road intersection by widening Angola Road and Robinsonville Road with separate left- and right-turn and through lanes. In addition, Route 24 will be widened in both directions with separate left-turn and right-turn lanes. Robinsonville Road will be realigned to Angola Road.
A concrete barrier will be constructed at the Route 24 entrance to keep motorists from making left turns from the proposed store.
The proposed 7-Eleven would have full access from Angola Road and right-in, right-out only access from Route 24.
Also included in the preliminary design is a concrete barrier between lanes running west on Route 24 to block crossover turns and left turns at the proposed store's Route 24 right-in, right out entrance. Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton of Lewes pointed out that the barrier would not allow a left turn eastward on Route 24 from property across the road. It would force those residents to head west on Route 24 and make a U-turn to head east.
Marc Cote, DelDOT's assistant director of development coordination, said officials would look at the barrier and address it during the design stage.
If the application is approved, the developer would be required to contribute yet-to-be determined funding to the project, based on traffic impact.
The DelDOT project is scheduled to begin in spring 2021 and be completed at the end of fiscal year 2022.
Plans call for construction of the proposed convenience store to coincide with the road work.
Cote said the intersection project is designed to serve the corridor for at least 15 to 20 years. He acknowledged that with increased growth, a four-lane Route 24 may be necessary in the future. He said if the application is approved, DelDOT officials would review the proposed intersection improvements to ascertain necessary modifications.
Rich Borrasso, representing Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth, asked whether the proposed intersection improvements would be enough to accommodate projected growth. He said his group's research shows that build-out of 14 approved developments within 2 miles of the intersection would result in 2,500 homes and generate 25,000 vehicle trips per day.
Resident Wegscheider said the proposed convenience store would decrease capacity at the intersection and defeat the purpose of the improvements.
Wellhead protection zone
Several residents said the proposed project is too close to a wellhead protection zone, and possible polluted runoff from the site could threaten nearby residential wells. Resident Quenneville said building on top of an aquifer within 100 feet of a wellhead area was inconceivable. “Runoff will be washed down to the lowest point – the wetlands,” he said.
Reimann said construction would not occur in the zone at the back of the parcel. He said a minimal 50-foot buffer would be in place between the zone and the back parking area.
Councilman John Rieley of Millsboro asked where fuel would go if a major spill occurred. Reimann said stormwater ponds would be built to deal with spills. He added that it's extremely rare for spills to take place.
Reimann said central water would be provided by Tidewater Utilities and sewer by Sussex County.
Website www.cu2176.com has been published by opponents of the proposed project.