Citizens voice opposition to public works building

Despite being told at the beginning of the public hearing on Thursday, Oct. 16, in Ocean View that the purpose of the evening’s hearing before the town’s Planning Commission was to review the technical requirements of the proposed public works building, and not for contesting its use or the plan to build it, the residents at last Thursday’s meeting were united in their message: “Not in our back yard.”

Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader started the hearing by noting that the town had received 11 letters from property owners opposing the public works building, two voicing concerns and one offering another option. One of those who wrote to express his concerns later changed his opinion to opposition.

The public was supported in their opposition to the project by two Planning Commission members, but, in the end, the preliminary site plan received a 3-2 recommendation, with some conditions.

Local Realtor and Ocean View resident Vicki York started off the public hearing with a question. “So, is this a done deal? Do we get to voice our concerns?”

Schrader told her the public hearing was to review the preliminary site plan – to review the technical requirements for the project, to make sure it was less than the maximum height, that it conformed to setback requirements and had adequate access to streets, etc.

“Its use is a permitted use,” he noted. “This committee will not address if it is an appropriate use of land, because it is already permitted.”

The preliminary site plan for the proposed 4,323-square-foot public works building is set on nearly an acre of land on West Avenue, where the former Lampe residence still sits.

The engineers for the project have stated that the residence will not do for a public works building, and so a new structure is now proposed to be built. The building would give Public Works a net total increase of 2,019 square feet of space. It would have load-bearing reinforced concrete walls that could withstand 120 mph winds, pre-cast walls and pre-fabricated roof trusses, would use green technologies such as the concrete construction and rain barrels for stormwater runoff.

It would have five heated bays for heavy equipment and about 1,056 square feet of storage on the second floor. The drawings for the new building show a Cape Cod-style residential look, with dormers, so as to blend in with other residential properties in the neighborhood. The estimated cost of construction is about $80 per square foot, or $327,000, which includes design, construction and maintenance over 20 years, but not utilities.

At the Thursday hearing, a representative from Kercher Engineering echoed information about the preliminary site plan that had been offered at the Ocean View council meeting two days prior. He mentioned that four additional parking spaces had been added, to equal eight total. He said adequate signage would be used and described the exterior lighting. He said they had been working closely with DNREC and the Sussex Conservation District, and rain barrels would be used at each corner, for runoff, and a very shallow stormwater pond with native landscaping would be used.

Former Councilman and newly appointed Planning Commissioner Eric Magill asked about the safety of the stormwater pond when it is filled with water, considering the close proximity of the property and pond to John West Park.

“I have a 4-year-old son. I am just wondering, how often will it have water in it?’ asked Magill.

The engineer said the basin has an infiltration ring and the capacity to drain a quarter-inch of rain per hour.

“It’s designed to drain of water within 24 hours. It’s a very small pond, capturing a very small amount of water, and it’s easy to maintain. You could actually ride a riding lawn mower into the dip. It’s designed to look more like an indentation in the ground, rather than a pond.”

“It’s more a safety issue than maintenance,” replied Magill.

Commissioner Carol Goodhand asked about the rain barrels and said she imagined a large barrel of water collecting mosquitoes and other pests, but she was assured that the barrels have screens and lids so debris cannot get in. She also asked about a Dumpster for the building and wondered why one was not shown on the plan. Goodhand further asked about outside storage and fencing – a question that was echoed by fellow P&Z member Eugene Brendel.

Town Administrative Official and Public Works Supervisor Charles McMullen said stone, salt, sand and gravel would be stored outside, not within the confines of the garage bays. “A fence was discussed, but not determined yet, so we did not ask the engineers to place one on there.”

P&Z Chairman Dick Logue asked if the future growth of the town had been taken into consideration, should the building need to be expanded. The engineer’s answer was that, yes, there is room for expansion, should the need arise.

“Are the containers locked?” asked new Commissioner Lois Saracini, turning her attention back to the outside storage bins and their close proximity to the park.

“No, they are open containers. But they are kept near children in a play area now, and there has been no problem,” answered McMullen.

Schrader asked if there would be any noise, odor or dust or any chemicals or waste held on-site. The Kercher representative said nothing “truly hazardous” would be kept on-site and the chemicals they would have would mainly be cleaning products.

Resident Richard Moore said he was concerned about the rain barrels catching any rain.

“What’s going to happen in a storm? We all know the rain doesn’t go down the spouts. It goes off the roof,” he said. “I oppose this public works building,” he added.

Another resident asked McMullen about deliveries to the site and was concerned that the town would be in violation of the 5,000-pound weight limit for commercial deliveries for such things as asphalt, sand and stone.

“People keep saying this is a commercial building,” pressed McMullen. “It’s a public building.”

Resident Steve Cobb asked about the lighting and asked if the town would be measuring sound generated there in decibels, as some other local municipalities do.

Resident Guy Warrington expressed concerns about the sand and gravel containers, too, and asked if the lawn-mowing equipment would be kept inside or outside. “This is an industrial site, and I am opposed,” he said.

Another homeowner, who drove 300 miles just for the hearing, said that, although his plan was to retire to Ocean View, he was re-thinking now because the stormwater pond would be right near his driveway, where his grandchildren play. He said he could appreciate that the town was moving up but reiterated the theme of the evening – that the proposed site is not the place for a public works building.

“Our decision is not to build or not to build,” reiterated Logue. “It’s strictly as it applies to the code.” Logue offered that the town council might need to hear these opinions, as the P&Z committee does not vote on the property’s use – simply the plan’s compliance with town code.

Other citizens said they were concerned about property values and the fact that Ocean View was trying to celebrate its rich history, and said that the new public works “garage” simply didn’t fit with that vision.

“A garage is a garage, no matter how you paint it,” one opponent said. “Once it is built, that facade becomes the garage that it is.”

York spoke again and acknowledged the need for a public works building in the town, but she said that the building conflicts with the town’s vision and investment of money in a museum and historical society.

“I oppose the location,” she said. “It’s an inappropriate use of property.”

Town Manager Conway Gregory said that, should the town get into the ‘trash business’ – a notion that some residents had expressed concerns about – the service would be contracted out, so no garbage trucks would be stored at the facility. “That has no bearing on the building,” he said.

Schrader asked those in attendance at the hearing which of them opposed the building, and 19 hands were raised, making it opposed unanimously by the citizens present on Oct. 16.

Goodhand asked again about an outside Dumpster, the storage bins and the stormwater pond that was on the Kercher Engineering site plan but not the committees’ copies. She made a motion to approve the plan, subject to conditions by engineer Susan Frederick’s comments concerning six items, plus the addition of a drawing of the Dumpster and the outside storage bins.

Her motion was seconded by Saracini and passed 3-2.

After the public hearing was closed, Logue – who had voted in opposition to the approval – noted that he had personally never wanted this location for the public works building. He also mentioned that he did not agree to the suggestion of a location at Route 26 and Woodland Avenue, which had been brought up at the hearing as an alternative. Logue said it was too expensive.

“About seven or eight years ago — and it was a different council then — I asked, ‘Why would we build a public works building in a residential area?’ I am truly convinced that there are other locations. I would not support this. It’s the wrong thing to do at the wrong place. Once we do it, you shut the door on this. There are better ways to plan this community. On the town survey, we heard that we need open space and recreation. Well, we’ve got it right there now.”

Brendel, in casting the other dissenting vote, agreed with Logue.

“I agree wholeheartedly with Chairman Logue. I vote no.”

Magill, explaining his supporting vote, countered that what the commissioners thought or wanted didn’t matter. “We can only vote in whether it meets the code, so I vote yes.’

Goodhand echoed his sentiments. “We cannot vote our opinions. We have to vote by the code.”