Dasboro P & Z considers infastructure regs

Dagsboro Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members continue searching for ways to better regulate development in their highly popular town, and took a first look at a draft Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), at the March 1 meeting.

Professional planner Kyle Gulbronson of URS (on retainer with the town) read through the overview, familiarizing the P&Z with the basic concepts.

“It’s being used more and more, in areas where services can’t keep up with the pace of development and demand from that development,” he said. “I’m only aware of one area (in Delaware) that’s actually using it — in New Castle County — but many places are considering it.”

He advised the commission to think of the APFO as a “growth management approach.” From the overview, that approach would make development approvals conditional upon the availability and adequacy of public facilities and services — utilities like water and sewer, but also adequate police and fire protection, desk space at the public schools and acceptable levels of service on the local roads.

Most APFOs focus on one or two critical problems, but others apply provisions across the board.

The town would be responsible for establishing a capital facilities plan, to remedy shortcomings in any of the aforementioned areas.

As Gulbronson explained, developers would then have to come up with their own plans, explaining how they would either construct infrastructure upgrades themselves, or contribute their fair share of the costs.

The notion would be cut-and-dry, if only “fair share” could be explained in the definitions, alongside tangibles like “developer” or “equivalent dwelling unit.”

Gulbronson used water as a good starting point for Dagsboro, since the town administers a central water system. Since the town buys the actual water from Millsboro, there would have to be some close cooperation, but Dagsboro would weigh developments against a number of factors. From the ordinance:

• The water system’s design capacity, source supply and available capacity;

• The projected water needs of the new development, including domestic consumption and fire protection;

• Existing storage, treatment and pumping facilities affected by the proposed development;

• Impact of projects in the “development pipeline” on available capacity; and

• Capital improvement projects already slated to increase the system’s capacity.

This kind of figuring may require the use of a calculator. And there are other considerations — from the overview, there should be a limit on the period of time an APFO can defer a development. And the APFO cannot violate property rights, or impose unfair costs on developers. But it does have some teeth.

“With an ordinance of this type, you could deny a project if there was no way to get the utilities that would serve that project,” Gulbronson pointed out. In a more likely scenario, developers would have to agree to phase in their projects over a longer timeline.

Or, to look at it another way, Sussex County Council Member Vance Phillips, present to give some expert input at the meeting, suggested the APFO was a sort of self-imposed regulator, forcing a town to manage its own growth.

From the overview, an APFO would ensure that a town adopt a capital budget, and “link its comprehensive plan with its capital improvement program, a principle of good planning that is often ignored.”

Among the limitations, increased complexity in the development process and the cost of processing development proposals — which would typically mean the cost to the commission members, for donating their time, Gulbronson pointed out. “You’re going to bear the brunt of that,” he said.

“And it could lead to a rush of development outside of town (outside the town’s designated growth areas),” he added. “You would need to have more coordination with Sussex County and (the Delaware Department of Transportation) DelDOT.”

Sussex County Council Member George Cole compared the APFO to the county’s own “Ordinance 38,” which requires developers to contribute toward sewer infrastructure. As Finance Director David Baker recently reported, developers paid nearly $12.5 million under that requirement in the 2005 fiscal year.

Cole said he thought there was probably some merit to the APFO idea, although he agreed that it would take real cooperation, between the towns and between towns and the county and state.

He anticipated resistance from some property owners in the growth zones, who might prefer to stay in the county if a town installed an APFO. “It can put a damper on development,” Cole added. “But maybe, sometimes, that’s good.”

Commission members took the draft ordinance home for some bedside reading, indicating that they’d present town council with an opinion after further research.

In other business, the P&Z welcomed incoming Commission Member Loretta Zsido, and Mayor/ex officio Commission Member Wayne Baker announced that Clayton Street resident Bill DeHaven had agreed to assume the duties of code enforcement officer for the town.

The commission reviewed a pair of site plans — the big General’s Green project (430 housing units on 116 acres, north of Clayton Street) and a new one, William Mills’ application for a commercial center on roughly 10 acres of commercially-zoned land near the north end of town.

The P&Z scrutinized the preliminary site plan for General’s Green for nearly two hours, but Commission Member Herb Disharoon would ultimately move for deferral.

Disharoon said he’d submitted a list of “Proposed Questions/Requests for Written Confirmation of Compliance with Agency Requirements” and had expected a written report in response.

Attorney Rob Robinson, representing the applicants, said he hadn’t realized Disharoon was asking for an actual document. He said agency check-offs were typically something developers worked toward as they approached final site plan approval, not preliminary.

Gulbronson reminded everyone that the developers would need to make changes to the plan as they worked their way through the various state agencies and fire marshal approval. “It’s going to be a lot different than it is now,” he said.

If the changes were substantial, the developers would have to resubmit for another preliminary approval, he pointed out.

Still, the commission sided with Disharoon, asking Robinson to provide a written response and come back on March 14 for another shot at preliminary approval.

Mayor and ex officio Commission Member Wayne Baker asked project planner Roger Gross (Merestone Consultants) if the developers could encourage construction crews to enter General’s Green from Dagsboro Road (Main Street, north of town), rather than from increasingly congested Clayton Street.

Gross seemed amenable, to that request and also to Baker’s request for a temporary deceleration lane on Dagsboro Road for dump trucks headed south, turning right into what would become the General’s Green construction site.

On the proposed commercial development, Gulbronson said Mills’ preliminary site plan, as drafted, violated town code. Dagsboro didn’t allow shopping centers in the commercial zone, he pointed out, and Mills’ proposal for eight storefronts surpassed the five-store threshold that turned the commercial project into a shopping center.

Lisa Boyce, who said she lived opposite the proposed development, objected to Mills’ plan to align his main entrance with narrow, residential Sussex Street. Whatever roadway improvements Mills intended to make on his property, she expressed concern over the traffic impact between there and Clayton Street.

Mills said he’d squared up at DelDOT’s request, but wouldn’t have a problem with an offset entrance if the town requested it.

Commission members deferred, asking him to resubmit the plan as slightly modified, by March 15, to give them a little lead time on the April 5 meeting.