Dagsboro planners play project catch-up

Up until a couple months ago, developers looking to build in Dagsboro brought their proposed projects before Dagsboro Town Council and professional planner Kyle Gulbronson of URS (on retainer with the town).

Council members vetted new projects themselves, referring to the town’s zoning ordinances and relying on advice from Gulbronson and various state agencies. Then, in August of 2003, the Office of State Planning Coordination (OSPC) certified Dagsboro’s first-ever Comprehensive Plan.

With that certification, the town was officially open for the development business — but perhaps few residents could have predicted just how much business was coming.

Dagsboro is divvying up the work a little differently these days. The town has established a standing Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission, and commission members have assumed responsibility for administration of the finer points of site plan review.

They’re also slated to take a role in offering council members recommendations on proposed major subdivisions, conditional uses and changes of zone — once the town lifts its recently-imposed moratorium on such applications.

The P&Z will be working to modify a few zoning ordinances, toward better alignment between Comprehensive Plan and municipal code, until that moratorium expires on July 24.

And commission members are giving projects already in the pipeline yet another going-over. Incumbent council members and Dagsboro residents who attended council meetings this past summer have seen these projects before, perhaps several times.

Now it’s the P&Z’s turn, and commission members reviewed site plans during their Feb. 1 meeting or: (1) the Cummings and Clark project, comprising two large commercial buildings, (2) the big, 430-unit General’s Green project, (3) the Village on Pepper Creek project — 87 lots and single-family homes; and (4) the 15-lot B/Z Builders subdivision.

Cummings and Clark

The Cummings and Clark project is located just west of Royal Farms, on Clayton Street. Developers are planning 15,000 square feet in commercial retail space, and another 20,000 in office space. Gulbronson had a few comments regarding landscaping and buffering between the site (which also houses, and shares an entrance with, Mediacom) and adjacent residential properties.

Planner John Murray (Kercher Engineering) said the builders were still waiting to hear back from state agencies on several issues, primarily one associated with a 250-foot construction easement along Pepper Creek.

As Gulbronson pointed out, numerous property owners along Pepper Creek were running into this problem.

“Why is it these easements never showed up on the deeds?” asked Commission Member Clay Hall. Gulbronson said that was still unclear. “So, you could buy a piece of property, run a title search — and still end up with a lot that’s unbuildable?” Hall rejoined.

Attorney Dennis Schrader would later suggest that the 250-foot easement had been set aside for the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), when they dredged the creek many years ago, as a place to dump dredge spoils.

“It appears that the intent of the language was to create a disposal site for the spoils from the tax ditch,” Schrader said. “It seems that it was supposed to be temporary, but it’s not so noted.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure why the drainage section (a vision of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control – DNREC) didn’t pick up on this earlier,” Gulbronson said. “This just came up in the last few weeks.”

It’s perhaps difficult to fathom today, but Pepper Creek at one time fell under the Army Corps aegis, as “navigable waters of the United States.” It’s now maintained as part of the local system of tax ditches.

Murray suggested the 250-foot easement was no longer necessary, and a 25-foot easement would suffice (for access to maintain the ditch).

The commission granted final site plan approval, contingent upon Murray’s receipt of final state agency approvals, related to drainage, landscaping and sewer. Hearn and Commission Member Herb Disharoon opposed, though, saying they would have preferred to have those agency approvals in hand first.

General’s Green

Schrader once again detailed the General’s Green project — single family homes and single-family detached condominiums, townhouses and apartments. All told, it’s 430 residences on roughly 116 acres, for a gross density of 3.7 units per acre.

Gary Cox, representing the Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company, added a comment that local firefighters would like to see the developers maintain the main entrance into the development (which joins Clayton Street) as a 32-foot-wide “minor collector.”

Schrader recognized Gulbronson had comments coming, as well, that he hadn’t yet reviewed, and he forecast additional recommendations from the various state agencies.

Council unanimously deferred until the next meeting, Feb. 16.

Village on Pepper Creek

Murray stepped forward once again, to present the Village on Pepper Creek project — 87 lots on roughly 42 acres of land.

He said the very spoils disposal that the mysterious 250-foot construction easement seemed to have been created to accommodate may have created a sort of dike, trapping water on the site. “It looks like nice hardwood forest, but studies have indicated wetlands,” he said.

Murray said they’d considered working with the Army Corps to move those “wetlands” back onto the creek itself, but eventually dropped the issue and decided to preserve that 9-acre area instead. They have plans to install walking trails.

Cox asked that the developers warn property owners against building fences between their back yards and that wooded area, in case the fire department ever needed to tear through there. Other than that, though, he had no problems.

“The sweeps are large, there are no reversals – if all developments were laid out like this, we could probably stop arguing about 25-foot roads,” Cox pointed out.

The commission unanimously approved the site plan, as a preliminary.

B/Z Builders

It was again Murray, this time for the B/Z Builders project, north of the John M. Clayton School, west of Main Street. The project first came before council as a cluster development – but the parcel was two-hundredths of an acre too small to qualify for clustering.

The property owner, Charlie Zonko, purchased an adjacent parcel to cover the 8-acre minimum, and then redesigned the project with 19 lots (gross density around two per acre). A few matters remained to be addressed — Murray said they might have to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to build access across a ditch bisecting the property.

Or, they might be able to simply straddle the ditch with a small bridge, he added. As long as they didn’t have to disturb the “wetlands,” they wouldn’t need Army Corps permitting, he said.

Commission members asked that Murray consider shifting the lot at the northwest corner of the parcel to help maintain a little width in the corridor of forested land passing the site, and Cox asked for final review on a proposed traffic circle.

With these stipulations in place, the commission granted unanimous site plan approval, as a preliminary.

In other business, Hall reported that the owners of the Bodie’s Dairy Market (Main Street) were hoping to add a 30-by-40-foot Laundromat, on the south side of the existing building, and Commission Chair Marge Eckerd outlined the agenda for the next meeting (Feb. 16): The commission will consider some code inconsistencies related to building heights, the ordinance governing the number of units in an apartment building and town center zoning (Main Street, Clayton Street to the railroad tracks), among other issues.