Residents ready to fight Fisher’s Cove subdivision in Lewes

21 neighbors hire lawyer to argue on their behalf
February 19, 2019

More than 20 Lewes residents have banded together to hire a Wilmington-based land-use lawyer to fight the proposed Fisher's Cove subdivision. 

Developer Burke and Rutecki LLC has submitted an application to develop 18 single-family lots on a 12.06-acre lot off Rodney Avenue. The property borders the Great Marsh, with a piece of the marsh cutting into the parcel.

The plan includes a historic property on Pilottown Road that will remain. A pedestrian access through the historic property will connect Fisher's Cove to land along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal that will be used as community open space.

Tim Willard, attorney for Burke and Rutecki, kept his comments to a minimum at the city’s planning commission meeting Feb. 7, saying his clients plan to make a more in-depth presentation at a future public hearing.

“The Feb. 7 agenda for Fisher's Cove was not a scheduled public hearing,” Willard said. “The applicant fully intends to address the city engineer’s report, the city staff comments and any questions or comments by commissioners at the public hearing.”

If appropriate, he said, the applicant may make modifications in response to the city’s input. He said the applicant also plans to address concerns raised by the community group and their attorney at the Feb. 7 meeting.

“The planning commission in Lewes is very thorough, and the applicant fully intends to comply with the city, state and federal ordinances,” Willard said. “This plan has significantly low density and large lots.”

Attorney Bill Rhodunda of Rhodunda Williams & Kondraschow used his opportunity Feb. 7 to speak to the commission to highlight concerns he and his clients, the neighbors, see in the proposed plan.

“I typically represent developers, and they say ‘[Residents are] envious. They don’t want anything.’ That’s not the case here,” he said. “You have long-term residents of Lewes who have seen what has happened over the last number of years and they’re concerned. They’re scared for their properties.”

Rhodunda said his concerns lie with access to the property, flooding and a proposed buffer.

He said just because Rodney Avenue leads into the Fisher's Cove property, doesn’t mean it should be used as access. The property should be accessed via Pilottown Road, he said.

“It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to have people going toward the Great Marsh when the floodwaters are coming in versus going directly out to Pilottown Road,” he said.

Rodney Avenue would likely have to be widened to accommodate the development too, he said.

“Rodney Avenue is a quaint, dead-end street. What’s proposed here would certainly turn that upside down,” he said.

Rhodunda also pointed out that a plan to develop the property in 1989 was denied because it sought to use Rodney Avenue as access.

Nancy Moore, Rodney Avenue resident, said the Fisher's Cove property frequently floods during major storm events. She said ponding extends from the edge of Rodney Avenue onto properties on Hornkill Avenue and behind homes on the west side of Rodney.

By building on the Fisher's Cove property, she said, she believes flooding will get worse.

“We believe that it is the lands at the end of and to the west of Rodney Avenue that have protected the surrounding community from rising waters from the marsh,” she said. “Where will it go? We believe the answer is our yards, our crawlspaces and our basements.”

Rhodunda said the city’s engineer explicitly states the plan is not acceptable in its current form. According to the report by George, Miles and Buhr, eight of the 18 lots are not suitable for subdivision as requested. The report says the rear ends of several lots are graded such that they would retain surface water in a flooding event.

Rhodunda asked that the application be put on hold until the city receives the results of a comprehensive study from a hydrologist. Mayor and city council approved a $60,000 proposal Jan. 14 to work with Rehoboth Beach-based AECOM on a comprehensive study of the area, focusing specifically on the impact of four proposed developments on or around New Road, including Fisher's Cove.

“It just seems like it’s too important to rush a plan through when you’ve hired a hydrologist to do an evaluation,” Rhodunda said.

In addition to the wetlands and flooding concerns, Rhodunda also highlighted the loss of trees in the plan, dropping from 58 percent of the property to 15 percent.

“That’s a real marked change in the land, and the impact of that is important,” he said.

In terms of a buffer, he said, the plan changed. Originally, the developer proposed a wooded buffer between the Rodney Avenue homes and the property, but that was replaced with a fence, and a stormwater pond was placed behind the Rodney homes.

The planning commission did not set a public hearing for the application. Instead, they requested a site visit for commissioners to get a better understanding of the existing conditions of the property. The visit is set for 9 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 27. Parking will be available on Rodney Avenue or at the Virden Center. 

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