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Lewes council, BPW discuss Village Center

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Consultants: Plans raise water, traffic issues

Development across Kings Highway from Lewes' well fields, no matter the size, could affect the city's source water. How much effect is still unknown - and that has city officials concerned.

Lewes City Council and the Board of Public Works met July 6 to discuss the latest Gills Neck Village Center proposal from developer J.G. Townsend Jr. and Co.

Hydrology and traffic consultants offered reports, raising issues and offering recommendations as the proposal is set to go before Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission Thursday, July 14.

The developer is seeking to rezone 11.66 acres of land from AR-1 to B-l on a parcel at Gills Neck Road and Kings Highway with the intent of building a shopping center up to 75,000 square feet.

A portion of the proposed development sits on Lewes' source water recharge area. Increasing impervious surfaces and possible chemical runoff are raising concerns for city officials.

"We don't know what the effect of that development will be on our water," said BPW General Manager Darrin Gordon. "Water is the lifeblood of Lewes and the people the BPW serves."

The BPW retained professional geologist Mark Eisner, owner of Advanced Land and Water, about a year ago to assess the developer's previous proposal, a request to rezone 33 acres to C-l for a 215,000-square-foot shopping center. Eisner said he has not had the opportunity to revise his earlier work, but did speak generally about the effects of a shopping center above a water recharge area.

"With downsizing, one reasonably thinks it will result in a less intense use of land, less impervious surface, less storm-water being generated and, therefore, less potential effect on the well field," he said. "That doesn't mean there are no concerns at all."

To prepare for any potential adverse effects on Lewes' water, Eisner suggested city and BPW officials work out an agreement with the developer to set money aside to guarantee funds are available to mitigate future problems. The agreement would establish parameters that would dictate when the BPW could access the funds.

Eisner also recommended officials require the developer to fully disclose its plan for the entire parcel. The 11.66-acre rezoning request is only a section of a larger 60-plus-acre parcel.

"I think you should be entitled to see it all fully now and that the developer be asked to enter into a deed restriction that says 'this is it and that's all it will ever be,'" he said. "Then everyone knows what they've got."

Mayor Ted Becker said the latest plan contains a footnote that says age-restricted apartments may be added to the parcel in the future.

"Just the footnote on this plan suggests what could be looming out there," he said. "It could be as dense or more."

Gordon said the BPW is not against developing the land. If the land were to be developed, preferably under conditional use, he said, the BPW would like to see specific measures put in place to protect the wellfield.

He said requiring a bond or escrowed funds would incentivize the developer to use best design practices. He also wants the developer to monitor the ground water coming off their water shed and only allow tenants that are compatible with close proximity to the well fields. Gas stations, dry cleaners and auto repair shops, he said, should not be allowed.

Senators resident Dennis Crawford echoed Gordon's desires in the public comment portion of the meeting. He said if the shopping center does move forward, it should approved as a conditional use and placed on a section of the larger parcel that isn't in the city's source water protection area.

"If they are bent on putting some kind of shopping there, let's make it a 30,000-to 35,000-square-foot smallish kind of thing," he said.

Traffic concerns

Ben Sussman, a planner with Environmental Resources Management, also attended the July 6 meeting to update city officials on a city-wide traffic study. Sussman and his team developed a traffic impact assessment last fall encompassing the area east of Savannah Road. City council then asked ERM to expand the study area to all of Lewes and the roads leading to city roads. Sussman recently completed the plan; it will be presented to council Monday, July 11.

Sussman said his findings for the revised Village Center plan are not too different from his original study. He said there would still be a concern about the capacity of roads because there is so much developable land along that stretch of Kings Highway.

John Sergovic, an attorney representing citizens group Lewes Partnership for Managing Growth, said one of his client's top concerns is the potential for a domino effect if B-l zoning is granted. With the other open, developable land nearby, he said, infilling with B-l is likely to occur.

Gail van Gilder, chair of the Lewes Scenic and Historic Byway Committee, also warned that the state's reclassification of Kings Highway as a principal arterial roadway could promote more commercial development.

John Mateyko, president of LPMG, said all the major issues can be addressed by first addressing the water, traffic and zoning issues. He said by denying the rezoning request and allowing a conditional use under the existing AR-1 zoning, the county could have more control over the development of the land.

Sussman's major recommendation for Lewes officials was to work out an agreement with Sussex County that would give the city a seat at the table when land-use decisions are made.

Becker said the city has a memorandum of understanding with the county, but he admitted it has not proven to be very effective.

"It's very weak; it doesn't have any teeth," he said.

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Original Publication Date: July 8, 2016

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