Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission received a detailed analysis of a proposed cluster subdivision on Mulberry Knoll Road between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach during its April 8 meeting.
Developer MKR Land Investment LLC has proposed a plan for Scenic Manor, a 319 single-family home lot subdivision on 166 acres on both sides of Mulberry Knoll Road south of Route 24. The parcel is a mix of farmland, woods and wetlands.
At the conclusion of the public hearing, the commission voted to defer action. The application is included under old business on the Thursday, April 22 agenda for a possible vote.
About Scenic Manor
The applicant's attorney, Jim Fuqua, said 258 lots would be on the east side of the road and 61 lots on the west side. The parcel, bordered on the west by Dorman Branch and on the east by Arnell Creek, contains 20 acres of tidal wetlands and 5 acres of non-tidal wetlands.
The property has been owned by Thomas Best & Sons Inc. since 1942.
Lot sizes would range from 7,500 square feet to 14,731 square feet with the average at 9,015 square feet. A 20-foot landscaped buffer would be in place around the perimeter of the parcel.
Amenities would include a pool, clubhouse and playground in the east section and a playground in the west section. Pocket parks would be located in open-space areas throughout the community. Sidewalks would be provided on both sides of all streets.
Commissioner Bruce Mears expressed concern over having the amenities on the east side of the parcel, which would require residents living in the west section to cross Mulberry Knoll Road to access them. “Hopefully, [Delaware Department of Transportation] would require a crossing there with signs,” he said.
“We can request a painted crosswalk,” Fuqua said.
Residents: Scale back project
Several residents voiced their concerns about the proposed subdivision during the public hearing, saying it should be scaled back to protect the environment and wildlife habitats, and mitigate flooding and traffic concerns.
“We are not opposed to Scenic Manor, but there are some serious mitigation issues,” said Mulberry Knoll resident Lisa Kiracofe.
Residents of the Mulberry Knoll community, on the southern border of the proposed project, presented a detailed PowerPoint highlighting concerns with traffic, safety, habitats and forests, wetlands and hydrologic soils, flooding and quality-of-life issues.
Kevin Berman, who lives in Mulberry Knoll, said residents want the subdivision to be a win-win situation, but there needs to be mitigation. “Take into consideration some of the concerns you have heard and give credence to them. Six hundred people signing a petition says something,” he said. “If a mistake is made, the consequences are irreparable.”
Recommendations presented by residents include: No water diversion from roadways and stormwater facilities into the Love Creek Natural Area located adjacent to the parcel; preservation of the old-growth forest identified as core wildlife habitat by the Delaware Ecological Network; all existing upland forest areas being preserved as buffers; a minimum 100-foot buffer to protect forested wetlands; and avoidance of building on hydrologic soils as recommended by DNREC officials.
“You can protect the environment and make a profit,” Kiracofe said.
“We realize the developer only has to abide by Sussex County code. But why not build to higher standards required by the state? And why is Sussex County not at least as strong as the state?” she asked.
Project in Henlopen TID
Fuqua said the proposed project falls in the area of the new Henlopen Transportation Improvement District. Instead of direct contributions to off-site road projects, the developer would be required to pay $4,968 per building unit, or $1.58 million, for scheduled Delaware Department of Transportation projects in the district.
Fuqua said the funds would likely be used for three projects along the Route 24 corridor.
The developer would be required to upgrade Mulberry Knoll Road with a 10-foot shared-use path, two 11-foot travel lanes and 5-foot shoulders from Stardust Drive to the northern limit of the parcel. In addition, the developer would pay for work needed to reduce the angle of an existing curve on Mulberry Knoll Road.
The preliminary site plan includes three entrances to the community – two for the east section and one for the west section.
Fuqua said no federally threatened or endangered species have been identified on the site. He said state officials have identified the parcel as a possible habitat for the eastern tiger salamander, which is considered a species of greatest concern in the state.
On the recommendation of environmental officials, Fuqua said curbs in the community would be rounded to allow for movement of the salamander.
Residents expressed a special concern for the American kestrel, which has been photographed on the property.
Fuqua said according to the Audubon Field Guide, the American kestrel's numbers are declining but are still strong and its status is listed as stable. He said no mention of the falcon was made in DNREC's comments in the PLUS report.
“However, we realize this is a resource to be protected,” he said. “The developer will incorporate existing features and respect protection of the area.”
“Loss of habitat because of development is one of the leading reasons for the kestrel's decline. A habitat of forest and farm fields is crucial to its survival,” said Anna Biggs of Mulberry Knoll. “Why take away a habitat in which it has found success?” she asked.
She said the parcel is a unique area of high-quality habitat for plants and animals.
“This needs to be right sized so all are happy with the end result, including animals,” Biggs said.
Residents’ suggestions include: A Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control survey to evaluate habitat and sites with potential to support the American kestrel falcon and other species of concern, and a qualified kestrel expert to be hired to determine exactly what section of trees south of Route 24 give the kestrel its desired habitat, including sufficient acreage of open fields and farmland to sustain the bird.
Fuqua said all forested wetlands would remain undisturbed with a minimum 50-foot buffer along tidal wetlands, which will be wider in many areas of the property.
In addition, he said, 21 acres of the parcel's 29 wooded acres would remain intact.
Increase in traffic
Resident Scott McClintock said a 2020 traffic-impact study shows that more than 10,000 daily vehicle trips will be added to Route 24 due to new and proposed development. Scenic Manor would have a daily trip count of 3,615 vehicles.
He said Mulberry Knoll Road is a narrow, two-lane road filled with patches. “They are only improving the frontage. What about the other three-quarters of a mile to Route 24?” he asked.
As part of the ongoing Route 24 widening and intersection improvement project, a traffic signal will be installed at the Route 24-Mulberry Knoll intersection.
McClintock said residents are requesting that the traffic signal be installed prior to any construction, and that one of the proposed entrances be relocated from a curve on Mulberry Knoll Road to the northern border of the proposed subdivision.
Resident Scott Schoenfeld said flooding occurs in the area when southeast winds drive storm surge into Rehoboth Bay, and tributaries such as Arnell Creek and Love Creek. “This project is in the northwest corner of Rehoboth Bay, and flood water is forced into this funneling area,” he said.
He likened the area to almost being a peninsula bordered on the west by Arnell Creek and the southeast by Rehoboth Bay, Love Creek and Dorman Branch.
He said all or parts of 96 lots and the clubhouse area are included in the 100-year floodplain. “It's a very low-lying, and the common practice is to use fill dirt [to increase elevation.] The water has to go elsewhere, which will endanger other properties,” Schoenfeld said.
He said residents are requesting that no fill be used for flood mitigation and no homes should be built in the floodplain.
Commission Chairman Bob Wheatley said according to law, a developer cannot allow runoff water to leave the site onto adjoining properties and cannot fill in wetlands.
Commissioner Bruce Mears, who has been building houses in the beach area for decades, said in coastal areas, very few lots are not in a floodplain. “It's buildable, and not something to deny a person's property rights on,” he said.