Lewes residents say the proposed Highland Heights development is not consistent with the city's comprehensive plan and its design may cause public safety issues.
About 100 Lewes residents filled the Virden Center June 18 to hear plans for 34-unit single-family subdivision, located on an 18.5-acre parcel of a woodlands between West Fourth Street and Sea Gull Drive.
Doug Motley, principal with Jack Lingo Asset Management, estimates the lot values to be about $300,000 with homes going for $600,000 to $800,000. The developer is not seeking a zoning change for the property, which is already zoned R2 for larger lots. Residents say the city's comprehensive plan designates the property open space.
Resident Ric Moore pointed to a section of the comp plan that highlights a recommendation to preserve three specific properties within the city, one of which is the Highland Heights property.
“That recommendation, as noted from the Open Space Report, explicitly states further development of these parcels for private use would dramatically and negatively alter the fabric of the community,” he said.
Gene Bayard, the developer's attorney, argued that the city already failed to comply with the recommendation when one of the parcels mentioned, the Thompson property, was sold for the new Lewes Public Library.
“I can assure you the owners of the property of Highland Heights have never been approached by the city for acquisition,” he said.
As designed, Highland Heights will be constructed in two sections with one road connection off West Fourth Street and a second off Seagull Drive. The two areas will end in cul-de-sacs on both ends, and will only connect through a multiuse trail.
The lack of connectivity was questioned by residents, who differed on its importance to the greater Lewes community.
“That piece of property to me represents the last opportunity to reconnect the suburbs with the rest of the town,” said resident Bill Ullman. “I think interconnectivity is important for maintaining the character of Lewes. The current plans just don't seem to be in character with the town.”
Resident Dave Robinson said building the community with a through road would create a shortcut to New Road, which would only create bigger problems.
“My fear is if you do the interconnectivity to Fourth Street, then all that traffic would flow down Sea Gull, a residential area that is not constructed for that type of traffic,” he said.
Resident Kim Ayvazian said an easement exists within Highland Acres, the southern neighbor to Highland Heights, that was intended to connect to Sea Gull Drive through the Highland Heights property. While not part of Lewes, Highland Acres is accessed via Sussex Drive, next to Shields Elementary. Adding a new road through Highland Acres would save on driving time and bring many amenities within walking distance, several residents argued.
“I can see Highland Acres from my front door, and there's no way I can get through there to walk to the drug store, grocery store or the hospital,” said resident Ann Nolan. “I have to go 3.5 miles round trip out of my way.”
Landscape architect Eric Wahl of Element Design Group said he used traditional neighborhood design tools when creating Highland Heights. He included on-street parking, sidewalks and street trees. The pedestrian path between the two sections of the development offers a link for walkers, runners and cyclists that otherwise wouldn't exist, he said.
Motley said the plan is consistent with most neighboring communities but includes more open space. He said his company has been working with key stakeholders to understand and develop a plan to fix ongoing issues with the area's tax ditch, which has fallen into disrepair.
Wahl defended the cul-de-sac design, saying a single road would negatively impact the wetland areas between the development's two sections.
“We do not want to impact on the wetlands at all,” he said. “Having a 50-foot right of way going through here, you will have some minor impact on the wetlands, and it adds to the impervious amount of cover for the entire roadway.”
Resident Carole Somers said that while cul-de-sacs are not prohibited in Lewes, they are discouraged. A cul-de-sac design in that area raises many safety concerns, she said.
“It is a barrier to emergency vehicles and fire equipment accessing homes in the development,” she said. “In the case of Highland Heights, we're not talking about a small group of four or five houses.”
If Highland Heights is approved as designed, Ayvazian said, the planning commission will continue the trend of allowing closed-off communities.
“It's inconceivable to me that you would not have a through street,” she said. “Lewes is a diverse community. I, however, have strong objections to private little cul-de-sac developments in the heart of town adjacent to four, five neighborhoods each basically turning their backs on each other and not being connected. It's just contrary to what this community needs.”
Despite arguments against Highland Heights, Bayard said he is confident his client's application is complete and will be approved by the planning commission.
“Tonight's discussion is not about land use; that discussion happened years ago,” he said. “Tonight's hearing is about subdivision, and we believe this application meets the requirements of the city's subdivision ordinance.”
The official record for residents to submit comments will remain open until 4 p.m., Friday, June 27. Residents may email comments to City Manager Paul Eckrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.