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Whites Pond Meadow gains preliminary consent

Lewes planners push interconnection, safe travel
November 25, 2019

Story Location:
Freeman Highway
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

The Delaware River and Bay Authority says a traffic signal is required at the intersection of Freeman Highway and Monroe Avenue if the proposed Whites Pond Meadow major subdivision is approved by Lewes officials.

DRBA owns Freeman Highway and works with the Department of Transportation’s staff to determine if upgrades are needed.

The 86-unit single-family home project moved one step closer to approval Nov. 7, when the Lewes Planning Commission voted 8-1 to grant preliminary consent. 

The applicant, Showfield LLC, may now move forward with final engineering and design before submitting the project to the city for final approval.

In an Oct. 28 letter, DRBA Executive Director Thomas Cook said his organization will require a signal at Freeman and Monroe. He says final design will be approved by DRBA, and the agency expects all improvements, including the signal, to be paid for by the developer.

Road to Showfield

Another hot-button issue has been potential connections to neighboring communities. The plan shows a vehicular connection via Monroe Avenue with Showfield to the east. Some Showfield residents have protested the connection, saying it will become a cut-through for residents of Gills Neck Road communities. Complicating matters is that Showfield lies in Sussex County jurisdiction, and the roads are privately maintained by the homeowners association.

A stub road for future connection was included in the plans for Showfield when they were approved by county officials.

City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said she talked with county Planning and Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell, who said Showfield’s homeowners association is prohibited from adding a gate or blocking the road, and any change to the existing approved plan must be signed off by county officials. 

Path to Bay Breeze

As part of preliminary consent, the planning commission attached two conditions related to interconnection between Whites Pond Meadow and the existing Bay Breeze community.

One is a bike and pedestrian connection, from a proposed road in Whites Pond Meadow to Inlet Place, a cul-de-sac in Bay Breeze. The Junction and Breakwater Trail bisects the two communities, and commissioners are requiring the developer to connect the communities via a path across the trail, granting access to the trail to both communities.

They are also requiring the developer to create an easement so a road connection could be added in the future if city officials and residents of both communities deem it necessary.

Bay Breeze residents submitted a petition signed by nearly all residents of the community opposing a road connection.

Commissioner Tom Panetta said going forward, future traffic conditions may make it easier for Bay Breeze residents to get out of their community if they go through Whites Pond Meadow to the future signal at Freeman and Monroe.

Lone vote against

Commissioner Melanie Moser cast the only vote against granting preliminary consent. While she agreed with many of the conditions imposed on the project, she said, she could not support the project because of the orientation of homes along Freeman Highway.

“This is a road that takes a lot of traffic,” she said. “The way I use my rear yard is for private, quiet entertaining and enjoyment. How do you do that when you’re next to a highway?”

She also raised concerns about children playing in back yards near Freeman Highway.

She asked the planning commission to require the developer to flip the lots, so the front of homes would face Freeman Highway. She said it would enhance the city’s sense of community.

Commissioners voted against Moser’s recommendation Oct. 30.

“I think it’d be weird if you came into that development and everything was facing in except that row of houses,” said Commissioner John Nehrbas.

Ring Lardner of Davis Bowen & Friedel, the developer’s engineer, said they plan to add trees and landscaping to screen the homes from Freeman Highway.

Future commercial use

Robert Gibbs, owner of property along Freeman Highway adjacent to the proposed Whites Pond Meadow community, said he eventually plans to develop his property under its existing commercial zoning.

“I’ve been planning things for 30 years as I’ve practiced law and just kept putting things off,” he said. “I can’t say I have very specific plans, but I’ve always planned to do some improvements on the property.”

One idea, he said, is to add a second building for a restaurant. But he reiterated he has no firm plans at this time.

Mayor and city council will have the final decision on Whites Pond Meadow. The developer’s final plan will be reviewed by the planning commission. After the commission offers a recommendation, mayor and city council will hold a public hearing before making a decision.

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