County takes a look at Riverview project

Sussex County Council took another look at the Riverview project north of Millville on April 19, but deferred action: awaiting a recommendation from the planning and zoning (P&Z) commission.

The builders are seeking a residential-planned community (RPC) overlay on approximately 80 acres of land near the Tuckahoe Acres campground (Holt’s Landing).

The plan is for 72 single-family condominiums, but there’s no access to the main upland portion of the site, other than by a planned 1,300-foot bridge.

Although the bridge spans wetland areas, the developers said it would have low impact. It’s to be made from timber, and construction would begin at one bank, with the first pilings forming the foundation for decking, which would become the working platform for driving the next pilings, and so on.

According to the developers’ environmental consultant, Ed Launay (Environmental Resources Inc.), the work would clear away some of the phragmites (the reed is often considered a nuisance) and open water flow through the area, improving the wetlands.

All assurances aside, neighbor Barbara Murray has remained stalwart in opposition.

As her attorney, Michael Malkovich, put it, “In our position, it’s patently obvious that you can’t build a 1,400-foot bridge across tidal wetlands, freshwater wetlands and through a pond without some destruction being involved.”

Bridge issues aside, Council Member George Cole started asking what the developers could have built strictly under medium-density residential (MR), without the requested residential-planned community (RPC) overlay, near the outset of the public hearing.

Cole has contended that the clustering option (enacted 2004) permits bonus density. While developers are required to set aside 30 percent of the gross acreage for open space, they would often need to do that anyway, he said (to avoid wetlands, factor in stormwater management, etc.).

Other council members have voiced a different perspective — that clustering encourages developers to concentrate large areas of open space, rather than chop properties into checkerboard subdivisions.

Attorney Jim Fuqua, representing the Riverview developers, admitted they would be restricted to fewer homes in an MR subdivision.

“Substantially less or a little less,” Cole asked, but as Fuqua pointed out, he was representing an application, and that application was for an RPC with clustering.

Cole pressed the point, but Council Member Dale Dukes said he didn’t think the applicant should be required to provide that information.

Pro and con testimony had run on for nearly two hours by then, but Cole declined to drop the issue. County Attorney James Griffin advised him it would be more appropriate for him to direct staff to work out the subdivision versus RPC density, rather than ask the developers to do it, and Cole did so.

However, Council Member Vance Phillips moved to close the public hearing (which would in effect keep any side-by-side comparison out of the public record), and Dukes voted with him on that.

Council Members Cole, Lynn Rogers and Finley Jones voted the motion down, however, so Phillips moved to keep the record open for another week, plus another week for each side’s attorneys to rebut any additional information. That motion passed.

In other business, representatives from Sussex County Habitat for Humanity picked up a $50,000 grant and put in a request for $75,000 in funding during fiscal 2006.

According to Executive Director Kevin Gilmore, the county had actually given them the $50,000 in the form of a loan, as a stopgap measure to keep a project in Milton going.

The county agreed to turn around and give the money back as a grant once Habitat paid off the loan, and they recently did so.

Gilmore said the $75,000 for this year would go toward three houses they have planned for Ellendale, and infrastructure (streets) in a planned 20-home development (Seaford area)..