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Land Management

Lewes committee recommends city hold onto 22-acre parcel

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Recent storm flooding draws debate on sellability of Lewes Beach lands

The recent nor'easter inundated Lewes Beach, flooding the area between the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal and Delaware Bay. Some of that land has been the topic of much discussion in Lewes, as a committee is looking into the value of selling certain properties on the beach.

Councilman Dennis Reardon, committee chair, and Coun-cilwoman Bonnie Osier each snapped photographs during the storm of the parcels up for consideration. They shared the photos with their fellow committee members at an Oct. 8 meeting.

"Water from the canal went from the canal all the way over to Cape Henlopen Drive within 20 feet, and in some areas it ran onto Cape Henlopen Drive," Reardon said. "American Legion Road was completely impassable."

The committee has been tasked with analyzing the value of properties the city owns along Cape Henlopen Drive, Cedar Street and American Legion Road, where a 22-acre parcel, the largest single property on the committee's list, sits. Many of the properties are considered paper streets, roadways that appear on maps but do not actually exist. Many of the paper streets lie between homes and have been used by adjacent homeowners for many years.

In some cases, the paper streets are used for access. Alaska Avenue, for example, is used as a driveway to access a home behind a house that fronts Cape Henlopen Drive.

In cases such as that - Alaska, Virginia and Maryland avenues - the committee recommended the paper streets be offered for sale to the neighboring property owners.

Flooding during the recent storm carried much weight in the Oct. 8 discussion. Councilman Rob Morgan said he didn't think flooding should play a major role in the committee's decisionmaking process.

"If it's particularly prone to flooding more than currently inhabited houses, that's one thing," he said. "But if they're in just the same boat as other lots where people have built and are enjoying houses, I'm not sure that's a basis [not to sell]."

Committee member Kay Car-nahan, also a member of the planning commission, said all coastal communities need to begin addressing construction in often-flooded areas.

"If I had my home and my car there, I would hope a community would sell me property that is safe," she said. "I'm not sure that it is. I'm not saying retreat from the beach, but I think it's pretty clear we do have to consider [the flooding]."

The committee deferred action on two other Cape Henlopen Drive paper streets - North and South Carolina avenues - until its next meeting Thursday, Oct. 29. It also deferred action on all Cedar Street properties.

Reardon said he intends to ask city council for more time to work through the issues. The group was given 90 days to provide a report, which is due this month.

More time is needed to have a state wetlands expert flag the wetland line behind the Cedar Street properties. No building is allowed in state wetlands, and the wetland line could affect the value and saleability of properties.

Reardon's photographs showed the 22-acre parcel between American Legion Road and Cape Henlopen Drive completely submersed during the latest storm.

Evelyn Maurmeyer, an expert in wetlands and coastal environment matters, said it is important to know the difference between flood plain areas and wetlands. She said flood plains are determined by elevation while a wetland area has to be saturated at or near the surface continuously for 21 days.

The committee briefly discussed using the land to build a gravel parking lot for overflow beach parking, but determined it was not within the committee's purview to recommend a use to council.

The committee recommended the city hold onto the property.

"I think we had six or eight high tides [during the nor'easter], and it certainly did a lot of damage," Reardon said. "We don't have nor'easters that often, but often enough that we need to consider that in this area."

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Original Publication Date: October 16, 2015

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