Safety was one of the few issues raised before Lewes Mayor and City Council Oct. 8 regarding the Dutchman’s Harvest workforce housing project, a 140-unit multifamily community proposed by Preston Schell of OA Vantage Point II along Savannah Road.
After planning and developing workforce housing projects for 30 years, Henlopen Gardens resident David Freed says he knows the pitfalls.
“Nothing else matters if this project isn’t safe,” he said. “I think this site plan is dangerous, and how it will operate is not safe. It’s really contrary to what the comprehensive plan requires for safety.”
He pointed at a lack of sidewalks and a parking plan that may require some residents to walk a fair distance to their units. He also questioned the proximity of the entrance off Savannah Road to the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail crossing.
Schell heard similar criticisms when the project was reviewed by the planning commission. In response, he added a walking path through the community to improve walkability. He said the big-house style he’s proposing has 10 garages in each building, so there isn’t a place for sidewalks.
In addition to the new path, he said, there are also paths along the northern edge of the property and along Savannah Road.
The entrance is shared with the Warrington property to the north of the proposed community. It’s vacant now, but Schell said he expects it to be developed within five to 10 years.
The Dutchman’s Harvest plan calls for 14 buildings of 10 units each. Schell said there will be 28 one-bedroom units, 68 two-bedroom units and 44 three-bedroom units.
He’s committed to selling 42 units to Diamond State Community Land Trust at direct cost, meaning he will not profit. Diamond State will secure funding to purchase the units, then offer them to buyers who make 60 percent to 80 percent of the average median income of Sussex County – $68,700. The cost of each unit has not yet been determined, as Schell is still working with Lewes Board of Public Works regarding impact fees.
Diamond State will purchase whichever units fit the needs of their buyers, Schell said. There will not be a restriction on how many specific units Diamond State can purchase, he said, and Diamond State’s units likely will be spread throughout the 10 buildings.
If Diamond State is unable to secure funding to purchase all 42 units, Schell said, he’s committed to selling what’s left over at direct building cost to ensure the community attracts the intended buyers.
“I think they’ll buy them all,” he said. “But it’s kind of a chicken and egg situation.”
To ensure units are sold to members of the local workforce, certain requirements will be in place. A buyer must work at least 30 hours per week in Sussex County on an annual basis. The unit must be the owner’s primary residence, and they may not own other residential property in Sussex County. All resales and rentals must be to qualified owners or tenants. Income limitations will also be imposed, but only for the Diamond State units.
The restrictions will be in place for 20 years in Schell’s units, while the Diamond State units are restricted in perpetuity through 30-year covenants that are renewed after every resell or automatically after 30 years if the same buyer still owns the unit.
The plan, Schell said, is to have Diamond State be the overseeing entity for all 140 units. If Diamond State were to fold, the city could appoint another group to take its place.
The developer will also allow local businesses to purchase units to rent to their employees, who must meet the same requirements as people who buy a unit. Schell said there was a rumor that Beebe Healthcare asked him to include the provision, which he said is untrue. However, he said, it makes sense for businesses like Beebe to take advantage of the project.
“Employers can buy these, then heavily discount them,” he said. “If the objective is to get people that work in the area living as affordably as possible and as close to work as possible, this is a way to help facilitate that.”
Schell said there will be homeowners association fees of $150 per month, $23 of which will be put into reserves for future improvements, like repaving the roads. A portion of the HOA fees will also be paid to Diamond State for managing the community.
The fees are low compared to other communities in the area, Schell said, because there are no amenities such as a pool or clubhouse.
In a letter to council, resident Tim Rizert criticized the project’s lack of amenities. By offering two- and three-bedroom units, he said, it’s likely to attract families with young children.
“There are extremely limited opportunities for any outdoor, age-appropriate recreational areas to be included on the site,” he said. “As a function of planning and design, where would any resident child go to recreate?”
Henlopen Gardens resident Abbey Fierstein asked council to approve the project.
“I urge you to support the project by recognizing the dire need for workforce housing in Lewes,” she said. “The community is made so much richer by the diversity of its members and the richness they all bring.”
Eileen Snyder, a resident of Henlopen Gardens, applauded Schell’s outreach to her community to address concerns.
“Mr. Schell has been patient and professional, and he has really tried to make everybody happy,” she said.
Snyder criticized the city for approving rezoning applications for two parcels next to her community that, she said, will quadruple the density.
Last year, council approved a rezoning request for the nearly 8-acre Dutchman’s Harvest parcel, changing it from R-2, low-density residential, to R-5, multifamily residential. Council also approved rezoning for an adjacent 9.34-acre parcel along Kings Highway from R-2 to CFHC, community facilities health care, paving the way for a 220,000-square-foot, 144-unit senior-living facility, also to be built by OA Vantage Point II.
Mayor and city council are considering approval of the preliminary site plan. A decision is expected in November.
To view the draft conditions and recommendations the commission added to its recommendation for approval, go to https://lewes.civicweb.net/document/8844/.