In a first-of-its-kind deal, three local government agencies and an agribusiness firm are partnering to preserve a key piece of property near Lewes.
Sussex County will join with the City of Lewes and the Lewes Board of Public Works to acquire the Jones Farm at the corner of Kings Highway and Clay Road just outside city limits, officials for the three governing bodies announced July 9. All three will jointly own the 37.5-acre parcel, currently a mix of agricultural and forested lands, and preserve the property in perpetuity. The sale price is approximately $5.5 million.
Details of how the parcel will be utilized remain to be worked out, although the BPW plans to erect a water tower in the far northwest corner of the property. The parcel falls within Lewes’ wellhead-protection area, a zone established to safeguard the local drinking water supply. Beyond that, county officials noted the parcel could include some form of passive recreation for future public use.
The purchase is a trailblazing agreement for the county and city bodies. It also represents the first land acquisition by the county using funds collected through a 2006 ordinance that allows developers to increase project densities in targeted growth areas of the county in exchange for added fees that are earmarked for open-space preservation.
Sussex County and Lewes BPW will contribute $2 million each to the purchase, with the City of Lewes offering $1.5 million. The property’s owner, J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co., is trimming more than $1.5 million off the original selling price, with the property appraised at $7.1 million, representing a more than 20 percent savings.
“This type of purchase is the model we should be looking for, partnerships where everyone participates – the county, the towns, property owners and developers,” said Sussex County Councilman Irwin ‘I.G.’ Burton of Lewes, whose district includes the parcel and who was one of the principal forces in facilitating the joint purchase. “We must work together as a community, collaboratively, if we want to preserve open space for the community to enjoy now and for generations to come.”
Lewes BPW Chairman Preston Lee said, “Its preservation will protect a meaningful portion of the precious groundwater recharge area adjacent to BPW’s well field that supplies high-quality water to the citizens of Lewes and surrounding area. We sincerely appreciate the extensive efforts by Councilman Burton coordinating with the landowner, the City of Lewes, the Sussex County Council and the BPW to put this historic agreement together.”
Lewes Mayor Ted Becker said, “This represents a major step forward in the preservation of open space and the protection of the city’s water supply. The strategic location of this property along the Historic Lewes Scenic Byway will serve as perpetual recognition of the agricultural heritage of the lands surrounding Lewes. The city is proud to be a partner in this significant effort to preserve open space.”
Paul G. Townsend, president of J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co., said the company has a history of bargain sales with the state and county, and is proud to continue this tradition with the sale of this property. “We commend the three bodies for their efforts to reach this agreement,” Townsend said.
So far, the county, BPW and Lewes officials, and property owner have signed a letter of intent, with a sales agreement to be drafted in the next few weeks. Settlement on the property is expected to be this fall.