Dagsboro hears from public on development

Dagsboro residents once again braved the heat to participate in local government on July 26, piling into the Bethel Center for another four-hour town council meeting.

Different groups had particular interest in this or that topic of discussion, but of interest to nearly every resident in attendance was the proposed General’s Green development — a 470-unit mixed-use development.

General’s Green would be situated on 115.6 acres within town limits, in a neighborhood the town has designated for residential use — east of Route 113, north of Clayton Street.

Even at 470 units, the project has been considerably whittled down — it originally came to the town with an annexation request for an adjoining 200 or so acres, but that portion of the property remains a matter for another day.

This was the night for public hearing on the smaller General’s Green, and the audience opted to shut down the air conditioners and endure the heat, in an effort to make the opportunity for hearing a literal one.

Council Member Kurt Czapp, standing in for Mayor S. Bradley Connor (absent due to a prior engagement), set the ground rules. Noting a lengthy agenda (even after several items had dropped off), Czapp said the hearing’s public comment segment would be limited to 15 minutes.

Despite the efforts to keep things moving, the meeting still stretched four hours, with adjournment shortly before 11 p.m.

Czapp would eventually cut off discussion nearly 30 minutes after the developers finished – however, several residents continued to call for the opportunity to ask questions.

As Council Member Jamie Kollock assured them, the record would remain open until Aug. 8, and points in any letters submitted would be considered as if they’d been presented at the public hearing.

The project

Attorney Dennis Schrader, representing developers Riverview Associates, opened by noting residential zoning on 48.6 acres and another 67 acres zoned light industrial. According to Dawn Riggi of Davis, Bowen & Friedel, traffic engineer for the project, the proposed high density residential uses could have less impact than permitted light industrial development — 1,300 vehicle trips per day less.

Per Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) recommendations, Riggi said the developers would make improvements where Route 20 (Main Street) intersects Iron Branch and Piney Neck Roads.

There would be dedicated lanes for entrance and exit at Clayton Avenue, Riggi continued, and the proposed Route 113 north-south corridor study would likely bring additional traffic improvements, via bypass, at some future date.

“The idea is to keep the bulk of the project back off Clayton Street,” Schrader added.

He offered some broad strokes regarding design — more than 50 percent (58 acres) open space, at least 50 percent single-family dwellings. As it stands, General’s Green would comprise 250 single-family homes, 170 townhouses and 50 apartment units.

Project density approaches 4.1 units per acre, far less than the maximum that would ordinarily permitted in an HR district (10 per acre). As Schrader pointed out, General’s Green rests in a growth area, per state policy and the town’s comprehensive plan.

In addition, assuming home costs averaging $200,000, he said the project would generate roughly $178,000 in property taxes, $1.4 million in real estate transfer taxes and $1.4 million in water impact fees for the town.

The project would be phased — Schrader expected they’d need two years to garner all the necessary permits, and then they would seek 125 building permits per year until build-out (market willing).

He expected sewer capacity would be the “governor” on the construction engine, but had discussed the mutual benefits of coordination with county engineers.

Clayton Avenue resident Richard Eckerd rose to ask Schrader if he was aware what a change General’s Green would mean for town demographics. By Eckerd’s reckoning, the project could easily triple the existing population. Schrader didn’t contest his math.

Clayton Street resident Edward Burton asked questions about the phase-in, and project designer Ted Simpler said they’d suggested 125 units per year with optimism in mind.

“We’d like the ability to build that many, but the market will dictate whether or not that will happen,” Simpler said. They did plan to include mixed-use housing in the first phase, he added.

Council Member Andy Engh asked the developers where on the property they’d incorporated the 49.4 acres of open space. Engineer Mike Riccitelli (Merestone Consultants) pointed to the buffer around the perimeter, 30- to 50-foot buffers around the 11 acres of internal wetlands (ditches) and a strip between the entrance and exit roadways.

Main Street resident William Chandler asked whether the developers had run their traffic impact study (TIS) against the backdrop of projects pending elsewhere around Dagsboro.

Schrader said they’d looked at a cumulative effect alongside the handful that had been approved but not yet completed. Chandler noted others that had come along since and projects outside of town (Piney Neck Road, for instance) that would also contribute to local traffic problems.

“DelDOT tells us what projects to consider,” Schrader pointed out.

“I agree that this proposal is not inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan,” Chandler said. “But that doesn’t mean its right for the town.”

He noted the importance of maintaining quality of life and suggested bringing 220 new multifamily housing units into town might be inconsistent with stated goals of preserving Dagsboro’s historically small-town feel.

He recognized that Riverview Associates had voluntarily reduced density by 8 percent, but asked council to keep pushing until they reached a number they felt confident would enhance, rather than denigrate, that character.

Council Member Clay Hall asked if the developers’ offer of land to accommodate a water tower was still on the table. Simpler said it was, although he couldn’t guarantee exactly where that land might be situated.

Kollock once again raised the issue of the golf course, directly from the comprehensive plan, referencing some portion of the remaining 200 acres between Route 113 and Main Street, on the north side of town.

As Schrader pointed out, they’d come to present a residential project. “We’re not doing a golf course,” he said. Kollock asked him about future prospects for those lands, saying he felt the two projects were in a way intertwined.

Schrader declined to speculate, but said there was little chance that the Office of State Planning Coordination (OSPC) would permit them to develop unless Dagsboro first agreed to annex those lands.

However, Kollock said that might be changing, with the Public Service Commission opening the wastewater treatment business to private utilities.

Finally, Piney Neck Road resident Nancy Morgan received the greatest support for her testimony.

“Poor old Bill and Larry (Police Chief William Dudley and Cpl. Larry Harris) — we’re already working them to death,” Morgan pointed out.

In addition, although she said she’d heard a lot about road improvements, she hadn’t seen DelDOT performing any of that work yet, and she already had problems getting out onto Main Street.

“We’re growing by leaps and bounds, and I think we need to slow down,” Morgan exclaimed, to a round of applause.

In other land-use business, council held the public hearing for the Village on Pepper Creek project (88 single-family homes) and approved the preliminary site plan for the Woodlands of Pepper’s Creek project (48 duplex units).

Kollock had an interest in the project and recused himself from the vote.