County approves Millville sewer financing bond

Sussex County Council authorized a $16 million bond issue to pay for the Millville Area Expansion to the Bethany Beach Sanitary Sewer District at the Feb. 14 council meeting.

It’s been a long, long time coming, but sewer is finally on the way, both within the town proper and a subdivisions north of Millville.

According to Finance Director David Baker, the county is almost ready to bid on Phase 1 — White’s Creek Manor. Work could begin there as early as this summer, and is scheduled for completion by mid-2008.

The project is slated to cost $34.5 million. That’s up from 2004 estimates of $28.2 million, but Baker said the county is standing pat on the user charges, for now.

The engineering department has estimated a roughly $2,300 one-time connection fee, $225 in annual service charges (for each single-family home, or equivalent dwelling unit — EDU) and $9.85 per front foot (road frontage on the lot).

Service charges plus front foot — that would be about $720 a year for a single-family home with 50 feet of frontage, $1,210 for a home with 100 feet of frontage.

Baker was optimistic that developer contributions and grant money might preserve the 2004 user charge estimates. Developers would have been responsible for installing their own collection lines (within the new developments themselves), but he said they’d contributed another $13.5 million on top of that, for transmission lines and pump stations.

“We’d previously intended those costs to be paid for by existing residents, so that will help,” Baker said. He also expected a $2.5 million grant from the state and, tentatively, another $2 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The county plans to contribute $500,000 to the project.

The $16 million bond issue will cover the rest. They are general obligation bonds, but the county did expect Millville users to pay them off, Baker pointed out.

The county is financing $8 million through the USDA, at 4.5 percent over 40 years, and $8 million through the state, at 1.5 percent over 30 years. (Council Member Finley Jones joked that he wouldn’t mind borrowing a little money at 1.5 percent, himself.)

Council tackled several pieces of legislation on Feb. 14, including a nearly-finalized appeals process for folks feeling aggrieved by subdivision denials, or approvals.

It would be a major change to the county’s internal, administrative appeals process.

Presently, only applicants — the people asking for the subdivision — can appeal a county Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission decision. But state law says anyone has a right to appeal, if they feel they’ve been aggrieved by a decision, County Attorney James Griffin pointed out.

There’s a rational-reasonable nexus built in – council is directed to review the record (from the public hearing before the P&Z) and “make a determination as to whether the Commission’s decision was the result of an orderly and logical review of the evidence and involved the proper interpretation and application of the Ordinance.”

If the commission did, case closed — the decision stands. If not, council can send it back, or reverse the P&Z’s decision. (Or, if the record is unclear — from inaudible or damaged tape, for instance — council can request a new hearing.)

Council Member Vance Phillips chafed at the time involved — as proposed, 30 days to request an appeal, then another 45 days to hire a court reporter and have a transcript made. “In the criminal world, we’re granted the right to a speedy trial, and in the zoning world, we should be granted, likewise, a speedy decision,” he stated.

The draft ordinance didn’t specify how soon council would need to make its ruling, either. Phillips suggested 30 (days to request), 30 (days to get a transcript) and 30 (days for council to deliberate). If council members declined to act within their 30 days, he recommended the county consider the appeal denied.

(Parties still feeling aggrieved could then move their petitions into the courts, but the process would exhaust their avenues within county government itself.)

Phillips gained support for this model, but there was less consensus regarding when the new process should take hold.

As P&Z Director Lawrence Lank pointed out, they county was backed up on subdivisions. His department received 99 requests last year (only a handful so far this year), and Lank said he still had more than 80 in the hopper.

It might take the P&Z most of a year to work through them, he said, so if council grandfathered requests “in the pipeline,” the new appeals process wouldn’t come into effect for at least that long.

Council remained undecided on that matter, and the subdivision appeals ordinance will reappear on the agenda at the Feb. 28 meeting.

It wasn’t easy, but council did manage to pass a shared parking ordinance, with a few scratch-outs and footnotes.

There was some question about the title, which refers to “within the same project and under the same ownership.” The ordinance actually allows different owners of record to collaborate on a “shared parking plan,” but Griffin cleared council to move forward because the body copy actually referenced “joint use,” not joint ownership.

The P&Z would have to sign off on shared parking plans, and council added a requirement that the interested owners contract with a professional engineer, certified in Delaware, to provide “shared parking study” documentation

The study would be based on the most current Urban Land Institute (ULI) shared parking study methodology. (From the Web site,, ULI is a nonprofit, founded in 1936, with a mission “to provide responsible leadership in the use of land to enhance the total environment.”)

From the county ordinance, the shared parking plan should:

• Address the size and type of activities, the composition of occupants, the rate of turnover (cars in, cars out during a typical day) and the anticipated peak parking and traffic loads, and council added a requirement to consider factors associated with seasonal load as well.

• Provide for a reduction by not more than 50 percent of the combined parking required for each use

Council added a requirement that no parking could be located farther than 600 feet from a main entrance. And there could be no reduction in the number of spaces provided for persons with disabilities.

The ordinance passed 4-0, with Council Member George Cole absent.

Council also considered, but eventually deferred, on an ordinance that would reduce the size of parking spaces, from 10-by-20 feet to 9-by-28 feet. The county would maintain perpendicular parking spaces at 10-by-20 feet, but diagonal parking could be reduced to 9-foot minimum width, total area not less than 162 square feet. The ordinance was slated for further discussion at the Feb. 28 meeting.