Plans for what is now known as Mitchell's Corner were presented to Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission during a March 10 public hearing. If approved, the proposed residential-commercial project would be constructed prior to the start of the $24 million Kings Highway dualization and intersection improvement project. Interim road improvements are planned in advance of the project, set to begin in fiscal year 2026.
During the hearing, the location of a stormwater-retention pond on a section of the City of Lewes wellhead protection area was questioned by the Lewes Board of Public Works.
Located at the intersection of Kings Highway and Gills Neck Road near Lewes, the project, which includes 114 duplexes, 153 townhomes and a 3-acre commercial/office building site, requires approval of four applications.
Developer Henlopen Properties LLC of Owings Mills, Md., has filed the following applications: a subdivision with 267 units on 48 acres; a rezoning from AR-1 agricultural-residential to MR medium-density residential for the 48-acre parcel; a conditional use for 267 units of multifamily housing; and a rezoning from AR-1 to C-2 medium commercial for a 3-acre parcel on the southeast side of Kings Highway adjacent to the Cape Henlopen Medical Center and across from Cape Henlopen High School.
David Hutt, the developer's attorney, said the project has been modified with a name change since the first plan was submitted in April 2019. He said a significant reduction in the proposed commercial area has resulted in a 50 percent drop in vehicle trips. The application includes more than 600 pages, including a detailed traffic-impact study, and environmental and cultural resources reports.
He said the Mitchell family has farmed property in that area since the late 1800s. A 58-acre farm was removed from the farmland agricultural preservation program in 2013, and several acres have been sold to The Moorings at Lewes, Cape Henlopen Medical Center and Big Oyster Brewery.
Hutt said the existing Mitchell family house and farm buildings will be historically documented before they are demolished, as recommended in a cultural resource assessment of the property.
“The owners are left with an orphaned farm property that is difficult to farm because of the growth in the area, so they decided to sell,” Hutt said.
Following the hearing, the commission voted to defer a decision to a future meeting. Sussex County Council has scheduled a hearing on the applications at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 26, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.
Plans for the parcel
The plan includes a 20-foot forested buffer along the borders of Bay Breeze Estates, Jefferson Apartments and the Moorings at Lewes. The main entrance for the parcel would be an existing entrance along Gills Neck Road, with a right-in/right-out entrance along Kings Highway.
The developer plans an interconnection to existing businesses, including Lane Builders and Big Oyster Brewery.
Plans also include sidewalks on all streets, a dog park, community center and pool, playground and sports courts. Density of the proposed development is 6.1 units per acre.
Hutt said the proposed commercial building would be in scale with the existing Cape Henlopen Medical Center, which is 39,000 square feet.
Ring Lardner, an engineer with Davis, Bowen & Friedel, said the parcel contains no wetlands and is not in a flood plain.
“The theme here is compliance and consistency,” Hutt said, adding the developer has used the county zoning code, the state's strategies for spending and the county comprehensive plan as guidelines for the project.
The parcel is included in the state's Level 1 strategies for state spending where development is encouraged and supported with infrastructure.
Interim road work
Lardner said the development team did not have the plans for the dualization of Kings Highway when it submitted plans for Mitchell's Corner to Sussex County.
Lardner said the plan includes a shared-use path in a permanent easement area with landscaping along Kings Highway and a connecting path along Gills Neck Road to adhere to the Lewes Historic Byway master plan.
He said the developer and Delaware Department of Transportation officials have agreed to a series of interim road improvements before the dualization project begins. If approved, the proposed construction completion date for Mitchell’s Corner is 2027, which coincides with the beginning of the dualization project. “The developer wanted to provide temporary relief with intersection improvements and upgrade of service levels until DelDOT can provide the final solution with the dualization of Kings Highway,” Hutt said.
Improvements include a right-in/right-out entrance along Kings Highway in alignment with the entrance to The Lodge at Historic Lewes senior-living facility that will eventually become a roundabout, along with changes to the Kings Highway-Gills Neck Road intersection lanes to include more through and left-turn lanes, and a shared-use path from Cape Henlopen High School to Clay Road.
Other plans include a DART bus stop along Kings Highway, and a bike lane, right-turn lane and shoulder northbound along Kings Highway to the parcel. The developer would also provide a new overlay and paving for the existing travel lanes along Kings Highway from Gills Neck Road to Clay Road.
Lardner said the developer would contribute funding to the Kings Highway dualization project for the Clay Road-Marsh Road intersection improvements, and dedicate 50 feet of right of way away along Kings Highway and 30 feet along Gills Neck Road.
Commissioners Kim Hoey Stevenson and Holly Wingate expressed concerns about visitors’ parking within the development with no on-street parking permitted. Two parking spaces would be provided for each housing unit.
“There could be other opportunities [for parking] not on the plan,” Lardner said.
“I think you should start thinking about that,” Hoey Stevenson said.
Hoey Stevenson said she was also concerned about the entrance along Gills Neck Road and additional traffic turning left to use the road as an access road into Lewes and bypass Kings Highway. “We shouldn’t be encouraging 400 or 500 more people to ride into Lewes on Gills Neck Road,” she said.
She suggested that there should be no left turns from the entrance until all other road improvements are completed. She said vehicles should be forced to use Kings Highway.
DelDOT's Bill Brockenbrough, who was attending the meeting with other DelDOT officials, said the proposal is possible. He added that residents could use the right-out entrance along Kings Highway to exit the parcel.
Lewes BPW voices concern
Tom Panetta, Lewes Board of Public Works secretary, said the BPW is opposed to the rezoning. He said there is grave concern for the city's five water wells located along Kings Highway, considering the proposed development and others either under construction or approved. He said well contamination caused by runoff of pollutants from vehicles onto roadways and fertilizer from yards is a concern. He said that runoff will end up in stormwater ponds proposed for the project, one of which is included in the wellhead protection area for the city's wells.
He said the city's water use has increased 25 percent since 2003, when the last wellhead-area survey was done. “Is the wellhead protection area even sufficient today?” he asked.
Panetta said in the state's Preliminary Land Use Service report, environmental officials recommended that all pavement be pervious, but the plan shows all roads as hot mix. He said the report also included suggestions for areas set aside for rain gardens, filter strips and other best-management practices. “I do not see any in the plan,” he said.
He reminded the commission that the county, City of Lewes and BPW collaborated and purchased the 37.5-acre Jones Farm property for $6 million at the Clay Road-Kings Highway intersection to preserve land near Lewes city wells.
Panetta said the proposed Village Center shopping center along Kings Highway and Village Center Cottages along Gills Neck Road are within or adjacent to the wellhead protection area as well.
“This is cumulative, and not just one project,” he said. “You have to look at this holistically.”
Hoey Stevenson asked Panetta what could be done to provide better protection for the wells.
He said moving a proposed stormwater pond out of the wellhead protection area would help. “It's in the worst possible location,” he said.
Lardner said with the proposed stormwater management system, with pretreatment included in the wellhead area, there would be no impact on Lewes wells.
Public weighs in
In a letter in the public record, the Historic Lewes Byway Committee offered several suggestions for the developer and commission to consider, including landscaping along Kings Highway, as proffered by the developer, as a condition of approval and grass berms along Kings Highway to screen views of the project.
Another recommendation was that open drainage ditches for stormwater be removed and replaced with a closed-drainage system. According to the committee, ditches are designed for rural roads, not urban roads where they take up valuable space and limit landscaping opportunities.
The committee also supports a reduction in the density of the project to allow for more open, green space.
The committee said the funds appropriated for interim road improvements should be directed to the existing plan for the dualization of Kings Highway. “The interim plan will surely delay the larger plan to improve all of Kings Highway for all development projects and all users. It is a quick fix or band-aid approach to allow this development to proceed, rather than to plan to do what is actually needed,” the committee wrote.
Jay Tomlinson, representing Citizens for Responsible Kings Highway Development, echoed many of the same concerns expressed by the byways committee.
In another letter, the Bay Breeze Estates Association board requested a reduction in density to better match existing housing density in the area and also provide additional space to collect stormwater runoff. The board is concerned about the impact of a proposed stormwater retention pond in the Lewes wellhead protection zone.
“The proposed development provides for very little green space and relies heavily on paved surfaces. Surface water directed to the holding pond will carry nearly all of the residents' cleaning chemicals, car oil, lawn-care products and winter salt. This will have a direct adverse impact on the City of Lewes water supply,” the board wrote.
See the application at: tinyurl.com/3weededf.