The future of a 34-acre parcel known as the Brittingham property along New Road and Canary Creek has been the subject of much discussion over the last several months in Lewes.
A contingent of residents has been steadfast in its opposition to a proposed plan to build 90 townhomes on the parcel, first opposing annexation of the property and now the preliminary site plan.
The Lewes Planning Commission held a public hearing May 29. A large crowd gathered inside the Rollins Community Center to voice their concerns with the proposal, and many left angry before the meeting adjourned.
Developer Setting Properties Inc. submitted a revised site plan for Lewes Waterfront Preserve May 23, featuring slight adjustments to the position of units to accommodate a wider buffer along New Road. The number of units did not change.
In a nearly hourlong presentation, Jim Fuqua, the developer’s attorney, said the plan meets all requirements set forth in the city code for the annexation residential zoning district. He said it also complies with the city and county comprehensive plans, and the property is within investment level 2 of the Delaware Strategies for State Policies and Spending, which is an area where growth is supported by the state.
Developer Joe Setting, president of Setting Properties Inc., said the end result will be good for everyone in Lewes.
“The plan preserves almost every tree on the site, the natural resources, and has substantially more than 50 percent open space,” he said. “I truly believe residents of Lewes and the surrounding area will benefit from this aesthetically pleasing plan.”
Ron Sutton of Civil Engineering Associates said a 50-foot buffer from all wetlands is proposed. Additionally, he said, there is no plan to build within the 100-year flood plain.
The only entrance and exit from the community to New Road would align with existing Creekside Drive. Other required transportation improvements include turn lanes on New Road and a shared-use path along the New Road boundary of the property.
Units would be 28 feet wide and as deep as 60 to 62 feet. There will be 180 off-street parking spaces, 13 overflow spaces and 75 on-street spaces.
The buffer along New Road was increased from 10 feet to 30 feet after meeting with the Historic Lewes Byway group, Sutton said. From the edge of the new right of way to a structure will be about 60 feet, he said. In between, he said, will be a berm and a significant amount of plantings to screen the townhomes from the road.
Sutton said the plan also preserves 67 percent of the property as open space.
New Road resident Marta Nammack scoffed at the developer’s characterization of open space and the chosen name of the community.
“The developer has chosen to name this Lewes Waterfront Preserve,” she said. “The irony is not lost on me. Nothing about this project is preservation.”
She said Canary Creek is already flooding onto New Road during large storm events, and this property is important for stormwater absorption. If approved, she said, city officials need to require porous pavement to ensure water goes back into the ground.
But she doesn’t want the project to move forward, as it is out of character with Lewes and the immediate area, she said. “Everything that makes this road scenic is being destroyed,” she said. “We are citizens and we deserve better.”
Fuqua said units would likely sell in the mid- to high-$400,000 range. Several residents said that price point would be attractive to people looking for a second home in Lewes, who would also rent it in the summer when they’re not there.
Resident Jeff Bison asked if the city could impose a no-rental clause for the community.
“That is extremely important for safety,” he said. “If you get a family renting, you can easily get three, four, five cars parking on these narrow streets. With cars parked on both sides, how much access is there for the major equipment we might need to get in there if they had a fire?”
Canary Creek resident Jan Gilmour shared a similar concern about access for the fire department. In 2017, she was one of the residents who discovered a blaze in the townhouse section of her community. The fire affected several homes.
“We had a good outcome because we had access and our fire hydrants worked,” she said. “My concern as I look at this development is there is only one access point from New Road, which is very small and impacted by weather. If we have a vehicle blocking the area, the people in that community are going to be at great risk.”
Resident Debra Evalds criticized the developer’s characterization that three-quarters of the property would remain open, arguing most of the land isn’t buildable land. She said the townhomes are shoe-horned into the property for maximum density.
“It’s not just about if it conforms with code, but what its impact is on existing neighborhoods, on the city of Lewes and on existing neighbors,” she said. “I don’t think that just because it’s a permitted use that it’s a slam dunk.”
Canary Creek resident Doug Spelman urged the commission to take its time in making a decision. He said a thorough traffic study is needed to analyze the impact of the upcoming changes at Minos Conaway Road and Nassau bridge.
“That’s going to pump a lot of vehicles down New Road,” he said. “There’s a lot of traffic that doesn’t know about New Road yet.”
He also noted that if Lewes Waterfront Preserve is approved, it will set precedent for developers to seek higher density zoning along New Road outside the city.
“Now county applicants will not need to be in the city to get high density,” he said. “Once this is done, it’s done forever.”
Many residents urged the planning commission to hold off a decision until the city receives the report it commissioned from AECOM on the hydrology of the Canary Creek basin. Commission Chairman Drew McKay said he expects the first phase of the report to arrive before the commission’s June 19 meeting, and he plans to include a discussion on the report on the July 17 agenda. The commission has 90 days from May 29 to make a recommendation to mayor and city council regarding Lewes Waterfront Preserve.