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Tunnell plan draws traffic, density concerns

Long Neck-area subdivision among largest proposed
August 2, 2019

Story Location:
Banks Road
Green Road
Millsboro  Delaware
United States

During the three-hour July 25 Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission hearing, more than a dozen residents testified a new subdivision's proposed 651 single-family homes are out of scale and density with the area.

Baywood LLC and Sussex Realty Co., both owned by the Tunnell family, have filed an application for Keastone Bay, a 651-lot cluster subdivision on 311 acres on both sides of Green Road near the Banks Road intersection near Long Neck.

The Tunnells have been involved in development in the Long Neck area since 1962 when Pot-Nets Bayside opened.

“This is the most drastic change ever in this area,” said Norman Barnett, who has lived in Waters Edge Trail adjacent to the property for 37 years.

“This is a massive subdivision – a whole city larger than any other subdivision you are working on now.”

Barnett is an attorney in the same office as Jim Fuqua, the developer's attorney. In answer to Barnett, Fuqua suggested it would be better to develop a master plan for one large subdivision than spread out three, four, five or six smaller subdivisions.

Arthur Robbins, who lives in Winding Creek Village, which shares a property line with the proposed project, said the proposed subdivision at buildout would double the number of people in the Banks Road area. He said there are currently 644 properties on 980 acres, not all built on, along the road. “It would be a 100 percent increase on less than a third size parcel,” he said.

Robbins said with the projected daily count of more than 6,000 vehicles from the proposed subdivision, and adding in current traffic and other future development in the area, the road could see an increase of as many as 13,000 more daily vehicle trips per day in the future. “And this doesn't impact just the frontage of this development, but the entire length of Banks Road,” he said.

Questions about traffic signal

A key issue was a traffic signal at the Route 24-Banks Road intersection. While the developer would likely be required to contribute funding for a signal, a Delaware Department of Transportation official said a new signal would depend on traffic data.

Bill Brockenbrough of DelDOT said it's likely a signal will be among recommendations included in a traffic-impact study review. “The timing I can't address,” he said. “It must meet certain data, and I'm not sure if it's met now.”

Residents who testified said the signal is already long overdue.

One hundred permits a year

Fuqua said the proposed subdivision meets criteria laid out in the comprehensive plan for AR-1 zoned land in the Coastal Area growth zone where density of 2.17 units per acre is permitted. He said the project would be served by central water and sewer, and have an overall density of 2.09 units per acre.

Water would be provided by the Long Neck Water Co. and sewer would be provided by the Inland Bays Preservation Co., both owned by the Tunnells.

Developer Robert Tunnell III said the homes could be marketed to pre-retirees and retirees, the same demographics the company targets in the Baywood community. He said the trend in their other communities is 50 percent permanent residents and 50 percent seasonal residents.

When asked whether the land would be leased or fee simple, he replied a decision has not been made.

Fuqua said no more than 100 building permits would be requested each year as the project would be phased in.

Fuqua said lots would average just over 9,200 square feet.

The subdivision would have two entrances off Green Road. The attorney said all streets would have curbs and gutters, and would be tree-lined with sidewalks on both sides.

He said 24 lots have been removed from the site plan to allow for more than 20 neighborhood parks averaging 17,500 square feet - about .4 acres - throughout the community.

Amenities would include a pool, clubhouse with fitness center, meeting rooms and offices, four bocce ball courts, four pickleball courts and two tennis courts. A fishing and crabbing pier and kayak launching area are proposed along Hopkins Prong in the northern section of the property.

Fuqua said the preliminary site plans show a minimum of 50-foot buffers around the perimeter of the property with a minimum 100-foot buffer from wetlands.

He said the development would have 136 acres of open space, or 43 percent of the total acreage.

Residents pointed out that 210 acres, or more than 80 percent of the woodlands, would be removed.

Public record open for study

The planning and zoning commission voted to close the public hearing but leave the public record open for receipt of the final traffic-impact study review from DelDOT. Chairman Bob Wheatley said once the information is received by the commission, the public will have 15 days to provide written comments.

Subdivision applications are only heard by the planning and zoning commission. Their decision can be appealed to Sussex County County Council.

Road improvements required

Fuqua said proposed road improvements required at the developer's expense include 11-foot travel lanes, 5-foot shoulders, and turn and through lanes on Green Road and Banks Road along the frontage of the proposed subdivision, and a right-turn lane at the Holly Lake Road-Route 24 intersection.

He said the developer would have to make financial contributions to a proposed Route 24-Banks Road traffic signal, a planned DelDOT project to improve the Route 24-Long Neck Road-Indian Mission Road intersection and a proposed one-lane roundabout or traffic signal at the School Lane-Bay Farm Road intersection.

Access to the Waters Edge Trail community, which is currently a stone road off Green Road, would be via a new street through a section of Keastone Bay.

DelDOT's Brockenbrough said the proposed road improvements are preliminary because the agency has not received the final review of the developer's traffic- impact study from its consultant. “It's still under review, and we may not agree with all recommendations. We want to take a closer look,” he said.

He said the study shows deficiencies at least at five intersections in the area where turns – especially left turns – are hard to make and vehicle waiting times at intersections are longer than desired to keep traffic moving. The traffic-impact study included data and traffic counts from nine area intersections, and 10 approved and proposed developments.

Residents: Infrastructure first

Those who testified against the subdivision agreed that Tunnell projects were high quality, but this one would cause too much impact on the area.

“It's not that it's a Tunnell development. It's the density that's the problem. We are not equipped for that,” said Cathy Barnes, who lives in Winding Creek Village. She said developments in the area include homes on at least one-half-acre lots with many on larger lots.

She urged the commission to spread development out. “Don't kill off what makes Sussex County so attractive,” she said, adding another 1,000 homes are planned in the area.

Terri Cellini, another Winding Creek Village resident, said an adequate public facilities ordinance is needed in the county. Many residents agreed that infrastructure should be in place before the development.

“You say DelDOT is responsible for the roads, but you are responsible for development. More coordination is needed,” she said.

Lauren Lubock questioned the proposed subdivision’s impact on the Indian River School District, and particularly on Long Neck Elementary School. She said although the development may be marketed to seniors, there is no guarantee that will occur.

Others expressed concern about public safety and access for fire engines, ambulances and paramedic vehicles on overcrowded roads. Residents talked about the daily backups on Route 24 heading into Millsboro that can be as long as two miles from 4 to 7 p.m.

Sussex population is growing

Fuqua said Keastone Bay is named in memory of Sussex County land planner Frank Kea, who passed away last October. It was one of the last projects he worked on.

Fuqua said another subdivision, Bridlewood, on the same property was approved in 2007 by the planning and zoning commission.

“With the economic recession, it grinded to a halt and was void in three years. This is a revival of that application with improvements,” he said.

Fuqua said the proposed subdivision meets the need for the growing population in Sussex County. He said Population Consortium data included in the county comprehensive plan show the permanent population increasing from 215,000 to 254,000 by 2035.

In addition, he said, the seasonal population will increase from 99,000 to 120,500 over the same time period.