On the recommendation of Commissioner Kim Hoey Stevenson, the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-0 at its Dec. 13 meeting to defer a vote on a subdivision application on property owned by Groome United Methodist Church filed by New Road Ventures LLC.
The application has been placed back on the commission’s Thursday, Dec. 20 agenda for a possible vote. It's the final meeting of the year as well as the last meeting for Commissioner Doug Hudson, who was elected to county council to take the seat of the retiring George Cole.
The developer has plans for a 292-single-family lot community on 134 acres of AR-1, agricultural-residential, land along New Road and Lynn Road just outside Lewes. The proposed subdivision would be known as Tower Hill, which is the same name as the original farm.
The public record was held open for receipt of the developer’s traffic-impact study. Last week, the commission received the study as well as comments from the public. At the Dec. 13 meeting, the commission voted to close the record.
Hoey Stevenson asked assistant county attorney Vince Robertson how much leeway the commission has making recommendations on road improvements. Robertson said it’s the Delaware Department of Transportation’s responsibility to dictate changes and road improvements. “It’s more than saying traffic is bad. We need expert witnesses to rely on. If approved, DelDOT will say do X,Y, Z improvements and will not be in favor of or opposition to an application,” he said.
He said the commission has to rely on the public record on traffic issues in the area.
Hoey Stevenson said she needed more time to read all of the new additions to the public record.
If approved, the developer would have extensive road improvements to complete along both roads, including a circle at the entrance to the community. The developer has agreed to work with the Historic Lewes Scenic Byway Committee on the landscape plan for the frontage of New Road.
The property has been at the center of controversy since church officials announced their intentions to sell the parcel last September. A group of Lewes-area residents formed the New Road Preservation Alliance in an effort protect the New Road and Great Marsh corridor, including the Groome property.
They joined efforts to preserve 1,100 acres, including the Groome property and three other parcels along the corridor, that had begun in 2014 but fell short of the developer's financial offer to the church.
Church officials plan to use funds from the sale of the inherited property to build a new church to replace a historic structure on Savannah Road in Lewes.
The planning and zoning commission has the final say on subdivision applications, which are not subject to a county council public hearing.