Dagsboro moving toward moratorium goals

Dagsboro Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) Chair Marge Eckerd reported strong progress at the March 27 town council meeting on the commission’s checklist of matters to be addressed before the town’s building moratorium expires in late July.

“Commissioners are on schedule with the moratorium guidelines,” Eckerd pointed out, thanks to several meetings a month that have been scheduled.

“We still need the design standards, the historic-preservation standards, to update the zoning and building map, and reevaluate the boundaries for annexation consideration,” she said. “That should take us into June.”

Eckerd presented a set of landscaping, screening and buffering requirements for council’s consideration, but council did not review them at the time. Eckerd also recommended change of zoning designation, from “Mixed Use” to “Town Center,” for Main Street and for Clayton Street between Main Street and the railroad tracks.

“These regulations will make a substantial difference in creating a downtown that people will want to visit, shop and return to,” she said. However, council again indicated a desire to consider the new regulations at their leisure, and did not review them at the meeting.

Mayor Wayne Baker did comment on a P&Z-recommended set of guidelines for site-plan reviews, however. He applauded the commission for developing such a cut-and-dried checklist. Eckerd said the commission had mailed out copies of the checklist to all of the developers with projects on the board.

Council added another element to final site-plan approval on March 27, unanimously adopting a requirement that developers sign a Public Works Agreement (PWA) before moving into construction.

As planner Kyle Gulbronson of URS (on retainer with the town) explained, these agreements lay down some of the specifics regarding water and sewer tie-ins. Also known as “developer agreements,” he said, they also cover streets until they are turned over to the town or a homeowners’ association.

“This makes sure you don’t have developments that are half-finished, and then the developer walks away (without completing the infrastructure upgrades),” he said. “Agreements like this are commonplace around the country. Basically, it’s the town’s insurance policy, and gives you some recourse if things don’t go as planned.”

Baker said he thought the state was already handling a lot of these details, but Council Member Cathy Flowers asked who would pick up the rest — council, or the P&Z. “The P&Z can do a lot, but the specifics should be handled by the town’s engineers,” Gulbronson said. In Dagsboro, he said, he expected that would primarily mean details related to the water system.

On a related note, he said there might be some grant funding available for setting up a template for such an agreement, as it related to the town’s comprehensive planning. According to Gulbronson, there is money available on a 50 percent match, up to $20,000 (the town pays up front, but gets $10,000 back).

Council Member Andy Engh asked about going back to the town’s last Comprehensive Plan update, in 2003, and pursuing some of that grant money to reimburse Dagsboro’s expenses in completing that update. Gulbronson said it was indeed possible to go back and apply for the grant money by referencing the town’s expense in “implementation” of that plan.

Council voted unanimously to move forward with grant applications.

In other business, council approved the Cummings and Clark project, between Mediacom and Royal Farms, as a final, with one contingency. Baker asked that the developers come back with a PWA, as earlier discussed.

They had resolved their last few outstanding issues, Gulbronson said — the county had approved the sewer plan for the site and the developers had corrected a couple deficiencies on the landscaping plan.

“All this is going to be easier when a new set of developers come before you, when we get our checklist in place,” Eckerd emphasized.

Most notably, Cummings and Clark developers had received a letter of no objection from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), for a reduced tax-ditch easement along Pepper Creek.

Several developers around town have been wrestling with a 250-foot construction easement along both sides of the creek. However, planner John Murray (Kercher Engineering) passed along the letter from DNREC’s Brooks Cahall, indicating that the court ordered change reducing the easement had been processed.

It was enough for a 4-1 majority, over Council Member Patti Adams’ objection. She said wasn’t sure whether or not “processed” was the same thing as finalized and filed.

In other business, council voted on a pair of zoning ordinances, regarding: (1) maximum allowable number of “condominium flats” in a “condominium building,” and (2) temporary sales/construction trailers as conditional uses, in all zoning districts.

Council voted 3-2 to readjust the maximum number of condo flats per building, back to 10 per building, over opposing votes from Council Members Andy Engh and Kurt Czapp.

The ordinance also further clarifies minimum square footage, referring to a 1,000-square-foot minimum of “heated, livable space,” not to include porches or deck space, etc.

The sales/construction trailer ordinance passed with no opposition.

Council also briefly considered an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) — a “very rough” draft, Gulbronson noted.

More comprehensive than a Public Facilities Agreement, APFOs can consider existing levels of service in any number of areas — including utilities, but also schools, parks and recreation, police and fire coverage – the works.

If those levels of service are inadequate, council can decline to approve a new development, or phase it, unless the developers agreed to pay for and/or construct improvements.

An APFO goes both ways, though — the town cannot charge developers more than their fair share, so there’s some considerable study involved.

Gulbronson warned that an APFO would require more detailed plan reviews and closer coordination between town, county and state. The town might have to hire an additional part-time employee for administration, he said.

Mark Chura (Ocean Atlantic Associates) said he and other developers were already subjected to this level of scrutiny, at the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and Sussex County Engineering.

Gulbronson agreed that DelDOT was “probably the exception, because that bargaining process is already in place, there.” Chura said there was a similar process in place at the county, for sewer.

“Is there a question about the things that are already in place, whether they aren’t working, or is this just trying something new?” he asked.

Council tabled the matter for further consideration.