Lewes adopted changes to its annexation zoning districts Aug. 12, to remain competitive with Sussex County.
When the districts were adopted in May 2018, the goal was to bring the city’s land-use regulations in sync with Sussex County to entice developers to annex into Lewes. While Lewes’ regulations are designed to be slightly stricter, Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait said, the benefits of being in the city could be enough to convince a developer or landowner to annex.
“Council, for a number of years, had talked about annexation but didn’t do anything about it,” Beaufait said. “Now we’re doing something about it in terms of developing the zones and trying to be competitive. But in trying to be in sync, I don’t want us to be totally out of line. We did put in some constraints.”
Shortly after the Lewes annexation districts were adopted, the city received an application from Setting Properties Inc. to develop the 34.64-acre Brittingham property along New Road and Canary Creek into a 90-unit townhouse community known as Lewes Waterfront Preserve.
Residents were immediately upset with the density and called on city officials to change the annexation district regulations.
Beaufait, who chaired the annexation regulation review committee, said the only change they would recommend was to remove tidal wetlands and tidal waters from land when calculating maximum number of units on a property. Sussex County Council voted to remove tidal wetlands in December 2018.
“There is no reason to exclude non-tidal wetlands in the density calculations at this time,” Beaufait said. “To exclude all wetlands from density calculations now when the county does not do so would be ill-advised, and we would not be as competitive with the county.”
The city’s annexation zones allow townhouses by right. In a June public hearing, residents urged council to change townhouses to a conditional use, as they are in Sussex County.
After consideration, the committee recommended no change because special conditions can be placed on a proposal in each case.
The group also discussed open space and buffers. Realizing a parcel with a high percentage of wetlands could result in a development plan with little to no usable open space, the committee recommended that at least 30 percent of total open space has to be contiguous and usable for residents of the community.
The committee also included a number of new buffers in its recommendations, including buffers from state roads, wetlands and neighboring communities.
Mayor and city council unanimously approved the recommendations, but Councilman Rob Morgan voiced some concern.
“Are we just trying to be competitive?” he asked. “Shouldn’t we be trying to lead?”
Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said the reality is that New Road is going to be developed.
“It’s new and it’s different, and I doubt there are many people who are really excited about it, but it’s going to happen,” she said. “My view is that we’re better off under terms and conditions we drafted ourselves than having land be developed in the county.”