Dagsboro holds off on commercial project

No final approval before its time, Dagsboro Town Council members insisted, at the Feb. 27 council meeting. Land planner John Murray (Kercher Engineering) argued the case for a green light on the Cummings and Clark project (two large commercial buildings on Clayton Street, next to Mediacom), but a majority voted against final approval from the town, as long as there were still state agency approvals outstanding.

Some of the other local towns, and the county, grant final approvals conditionally – adding caveats that the developers secure any lingering state permits before commencing work of any kind.

As Murray pointed out, they couldn’t break ground in any case, until they received approvals from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the Sussex Conservation District.

“We wouldn’t be moving forward without those permits in hand,” he said — to do so would be a major violation of state regulations, and would almost certainly result in fines.

So, why the rush to receive council’s approval? Murray said there was a soil stabilization issue they needed to address, and he expected a go-ahead from the conservation district within 10 days — with a final approval, they’d be able to tackle the soil stabilization immediately thereafter, instead of waiting another month for the town’s blessing.

Mayor Wayne Baker empathized with Murray. “I know you’re close,” he said. However, he insisted that he didn’t want to set a precedent in Dagsboro for granting approvals with contingencies attached.

Baker remained leery of legal problems, referencing situations that had risen (in Milton) when properties had changed hands, and the subsequent owners apparently hadn’t followed up on some of the conditions of approval.

Murray countered that they weren’t talking about landscaping or amenities — some of the fine details famous for falling by the wayside over a project’s long life.

But Vice-Mayor Patti Adams seconded Baker’s sentiment. “We have so many projects coming, I don’t know how we’re going to keep track of what’s done and what isn’t done (if we grant conditional approvals),” she said.

Council Member Andy Engh disagreed. “This is just red tape, and we don’t need it,” he said. “We need to move on with it.”

However, with the majority clearly about to balk, developer Mike Cummings asked the town to instead consider granting a “letter of no objection” that would give crews clearance to tackle the soil stabilization issue (and nothing else), ahead of final approval.

Council agreed to that, unanimously.

Representing the Village on Pepper Creek (87 lots, north of the John M. Clayton School, west of Main Street) and B/Z Builders (19 lots, north of the aforementioned Village on Pepper Creek) projects, Murray had more luck.

Developers for those projects had cleared the bar for preliminary site plan approval, reported Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission Chair Marge Eckerd. Council unanimously accepted the P&Z’s recommendations for preliminary approval, on both projects.

“They’re both in good shape,” noted planner Kyle Gulbronson (URS, on retainer with the town). “They don’t have the conservation easement issues that some of the other projects had.”

DNREC and several developers with properties adjoining Pepper Creek are working toward compromise on a 250-foot easement along the creek.

Representatives for the developers have suggested that 250 feet (on either side of the creek) is excessive — a hold-over from an old dredging project, which was never meant to remain in perpetuity.

They’ve requested a narrower maintenance easement. But DNREC’s Frank Piorko (Drainage) has insisted that he won’t sign off on a narrower right of way, before considering just what it will really take to keep Pepper Creek flowing toward the Indian River Bay.

Mayor Wayne Baker weighed in on the matter, Feb. 27, asking his colleagues if they’d agree to a formal letter from the town, reaffirming support for “environmental easements.”

Baker said he’d asked DNREC to keep working toward water quality in the Indian River Bay — by protecting easements and recharge areas, and by encouraging people, if they removed trees, to replace them.

“This just reflects that we have poor drainage, and soils that don’t filter all the nutrients that we need to,” Baker said.

Engh shook his head over the letter. “To my mind, we’re (already) being protected by the conservation district,” he said. But Adams made the motion, and it passed over his solo vote in opposition.

In other business, a slim majority decided to limit P&Z membership to only those Dagsboro property owners who were also residents of the town. Council Members Engh and Kurt Czapp opposed the change.

Commission Member and local business owner Ed Howe also protested (he lives five miles outside of town), although both Baker and Adams were quick to assure him that, as an existing member, the decision wouldn’t affect him.

“My interest (in this town) is equal to anybody who owns a home in this town,” Howe said. And citing his background in development, he suggested council give experience with zoning matters at least equal weight, alongside residency.

There were comments that the change would limit non-resident property owners’ ability to vote on matters affecting them. However, as Baker reminded, commission membership didn’t convey any additional voting rights.

While some local P&Zs have the power to approve site plans and minor subdivisions, the Dagsboro commission does not – in all cases, council members (who must be residents) have the final say, and cast the binding vote.

However, there were other avenues for participation, Baker noted.

Main Street resident (and former commission member) William Chandler agreed, and referenced other towns that had switched from mixed- to all-resident P&Zs with good results.

Adams said many residents had requested just such a requirement when the town was talking about re-populating the P&Z, but Howe wasn’t the only commission member to question the move.

“So far, we’ve been in a state of flux, and we’re just starting to get some stability,” noted P&Z Vice-Chair Terry Hearn. “And we’re still two members down. If you plan to do this, do it hereafter, not now.”

And although there was only had one non-resident property owner on the commission, Hearn said he supported what diversity they had.

Czapp moved to strike the issue from consideration (Engh seconded) but that motion failed, 3-2. The vote to add the residency requirement went 3-2 in the opposite direction.

• Also on Feb. 27, council members heard Police Chief William Dudley’s report on use of the right shoulder for passing maneuvers. This was a legal movement, when safe, Dudley explained, but he voiced concerns about safety, especially along the north end of Main Street. Council agreed to install no-passing-on-right signs in that area (police officers could then enforce the sign).

• Council revisited the possibility of extending the grace period for hookup to Dagsboro’s new central water system. Some town residents said they’d postponed hookup, after a contamination event late last year, and now the May 9 deadline is looming large. Baker said he’d questioned state and federal creditors, but hadn’t received permission to extend the grace period. After May 9, residents will have to pay a $3,000 impact fee to connect, on top of the estimated $800 to $1,200 they’ll need to pay their plumber to run the lateral from the meter to the house.

o Some residents may qualify for county Community Development and Housing assistance with the plumber’s bill, on a first-come, first-served basis — call 856-7777 for more information.

o Residents need to use a town-approved plumber — Community Development and Housing can help with that, too, or call Town Hall for that list, at 732-3777.