Dagsboro planners weigh zoning against CDP map

Dagsboro’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) worked to align two maps at the May 3 commission meeting. Discrepancies had stalled William Mills’ plans for commercial development north of Warrington Street, one month earlier.

The project is caught between: (1) the town’s current zoning map, and (2) the Comprehensive Plan’s future-land-use map.

As Main Street resident William Chandler reminded commission members at the April 5 P&Z meeting, the town’s Comp Plan directs that future development on Mills’ property should be residential.

Chandler, chief chancellor for Delaware’s Court of Chancery, noted a recent court decision supporting the Comp Plan’s force of law. Governments could not legally approve projects that conflicted with their Comp Plans, he reminded the commission.

However, as Mills’ land planner, William Stephens (Stephens Environmental Consulting), pointed out, the land was currently zoned commercial, and had been for many years.

A possible solution: drop a big “town center” overlay on Main Street and surrounds, enveloping Mills’ property in the bargain. The Town Center zoning district would permit mixed-use development (residential and commercial, on the same parcel).

As Commission Member Norwood Truitt pointed out, that would mean asking Mills to basically consider going back to a mixed-use plan he’d developed approximately two years earlier.

Professional planner Kyle Gulbronson of URS (on retainer with the town) suggested Mills might have submitted the all-commercial plan because, having been advised that his property would be best developed under some kind of Town Center zoning, he’d perhaps started to run out of patience after two years.

Then newly-elected council members started talking moratorium. Again, possibly chafing at the bit, Mills submitted his all-commercial plan just hours before the moratorium took effect.

As Stephens noted on April 5 — mayor and council could approve or deny projects as they deemed fit, but the town had to keep people moving toward some kind of resolution. Even a denial would at least give property owners some idea of what parts of the plan they needed to modify — Mills was as stalled as he had been two years prior.

Commission members voted unanimously to forward a recommendation that council move forward with the new Town Center zoning district.

Gulbronson said he’d canvassed the area in question (primarily, Main Street and Clayton Street to the railroad tracks). He’d included all uses that were currently permitted in that area, in the Dagsboro-specific Town Center overlay.

Town Center is quite similar to commercial zoning, in that it allows either commercial or residential use. However, the new district would also accommodate mixed-use development.

And, it would install a new set of design criteria aimed at preserving the existing look and feel of Dagsboro’s little downtown.

According to Gulbronson, this would primarily involve the ability to share parking lots with adjacent owners. Otherwise, no one would ever be able to redevelop any of the commercial properties along Main Street — none of them meet the parking requirements, he pointed out.

Town Center design standards would also encourage a residential look (pitched roofs, architectural details) for any new businesses, and would require that parking lots be positioned toward the back of the properties they serve (rather than running parallel to Main Street).

Existing businesses wouldn’t have to change to meet these design standards — they’re grandfathered (until a property owner tears down and redevelops, or builds a major addition, or changes the commercial use).

In addition to recommending the Town Center overlay for Mills’ parcel (which corners on two nearby commercial properties), commission members recommended council rezone the entire block between Main Street, Swamp Road and the railroad tracks.

That block is at present a bit of a hodgepodge of commercial, residential and home-occupancy businesses.

The commission also looked at Joseph Smith’s property, west of the railroad tracks and closer to Route 113 (where the Discovery Island Learning Center is located).

Although it’s surrounded on all sides by lands zoned residential, the Smith property is zoned “Institutional.” As Gulbronson noted, Dagsboro didn’t actually have an institutional zoning district on the books – adding to the parcel’s incongruity.

The commission recommended council rezone the parcel as residential.

Gulbronson said he would get to work on a spreadsheet listing the Smith property and all of the properties that would be affected by the change to Town Center zoning.

Because these would technically be changes to Dagsboro’s zoning ordinance, council will need to hold a public hearing on the matter if it decides to move forward on the commission’s recommendation.