Dagsboro approves two cluster projects

Dagsboro town council moved forward on two new subdivisions with cluster overlays at the Nov. 28 council meeting: (1) the Village at Pepper Creek project (87 lots), north of the John M. Clayton School, west of Main Street, and (2) Charlie Zonko’s project (19 lots), in the same vicinity, just a little closer to town.

John Murray of Kercher Engineering once again presented the details on Nov. 28, for both projects. His final revisions, for both, showed skinnier roads.

Council had adopted more lenient road width standards earlier this summer. (The town used to require 34 feet curb to curb, now 25 feet.)

That was partly connected to a request from the Woodlands of Pepper Creek developers, who pushed for narrow streets in an effort to minimize the removal of some old-growth trees on their parcel.

As council members pointed out, there were hardly any streets in Dagsboro anywhere close to 34 feet wide (Main Street being the exception). And planner Kyle Gulbronson of URS (on retainer with the town) suggested narrow streets had an inherent calming effect on traffic.

Less impermeable surface also means less stormwater runoff to contend with, he added.

Al Townsend, a local firefighter, seemed less enamored of the change. While the town has restricted parking on the more narrow streets to one side only, he suggested there was still an increased likelihood that drivers would have to maneuver the fire trucks through tight quarters.

Murray assured Townsend the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) would have the final check-off, but Townsend was still unconvinced.

Zonko’s project lies on 9.8 acres, so his 19 single-family homes would generate a gross project density of 1.9 units per acre. The last time he brought the project before the town, back in June, council members found they were unable to grant the cluster overlay, because the parcel wasn’t big enough.

As attorney John Sergovic (Sergovic & Ellis) pointed out, Zonko had come up two hundredths of an acre short of the necessary 8 acres at that time — the minimum required for clustered subdivision. So, he’d purchased an adjacent parcel.

Per cluster overlay requirements, developers must provide a minimum 25 percent open space, and Murray said they’d met that (albeit barely, at 25.5 percent).

Townsend raised concerns about a roundabout, three-quarters of the way back into the proposed development — specifically, what Zonko planned to plant in the middle of that roundabout.

The development tees into a row of houses at the end of the street, and Murray said they were hoping to install landscaping features to screen those homes from headlights. However, in response to prompting from Townsend, Zonko committed to install decorative pavers in a 4- or 5-foot perimeter, around the circle and above the mountable curb (with landscaping inside that).

The other project, Village at Pepper Creek, comprises 87 lots on roughly 42 acres, and drew sharper criticism from residents in attendance.

Although gross density came in at less than 2.1 units per acre, some suggested those numbers didn’t reflect the 9 acres of wetlands on the site that were basically undevelopable. Discounting those wetlands, project density would top 2.6 units per acre.

However, Murray said there was still some debate about whether those 9 acres really met all the criteria to be considered bona fide wetlands. He suggested that matter was open to second opinion.

And just because they were wetlands didn’t really mean they were undevelopable, Murray pointed out. First, wetlands could be included in the square footage of individual lots, he said. And, per Army Corps of Engineers guidelines, it was even possible to build in them, he continued — as long as the structure rested on pilings.

Murray’s tentative site plan showed no such permanent structures in the wetlands, other than a couple of gazebos and some benches along a system of walking trails. He noted better than 32 percent open space, including (in addition to the wetlands area) a pair of landscaped stormwater retention ponds (wet ponds) and a “tot lot.”

Wayne Mitchell, one of the principals in attendance, said they planned to build single-family units: 2,000-square-foot ranchers and 2,500-square-foot two-story homes.

In other zoning business, council revisited an ordinance relating to apartment buildings that would add and modify various definitions — among other things permitting single apartments (one or two units in a building, as opposed to the existing reference to three).

Other ordinance components would decrease the minimum square footage requirement from 1,400 square feet to 1,000 square feet, and increase from 10 to 20 the permitted number of apartment units in any one building.

Main Street resident William Chandler asked council what public purpose the ordinance served, and/or what potential need it addressed.

Mayor S. Brad Connor said it would allow the town to offer smaller units to an older, retired population. “Have people come to you and offered testimony that there’s a shortage of housing for this sector?” Chandler asked.

Gulbronson said the 1,400-square-foot requirement generated either average three-bedroom apartments or very large two-bedroom apartments. “The thought was, with a 1,000-square-foot minimum, you could have one bedroom and a den, or two-bedrooms,” he said.

If the changes were ostensibly to provide rental housing for the elderly, Clayton Street resident Wayne Baker asked whether council planned to institute rent control. Gulbronson said those matters lay outside the town’s jurisdiction, but council members could possibly consider age-restricted tenancy.

Baker asked if council members had proposed any such restrictions accompany the other changes, and Gulbronson said that was not part of the ordinance as written.

At any rate, he said the change would only affect the high-density residential (HR) district, and there were only a couple of areas carrying that zoning in the town of Dagsboro — one being the Highlands of Pepper’s Creek project (336 units on 40 acres, north of Clayton Street).

(At the Highlands, developer Mark Chura has plans for several 18-unit apartment buildings, so the increase to 20 apartments per building would accommodate those.)

Eventually, Council Member Jamie Kollock recommended council drop the issue and let the newly established Planning and Zoning (P&Z) commission give it a review.

Council members voted unanimously to table the ordinance.

And finally, an ordinance to allow either public or private streets in new subdivisions was lifted from the table and reconsidered under old business.

Town Solicitor Tempe Steen had advised against the move earlier this summer. Many new residents never read their homeowners association bylaws, she said, and years later, when their neighborhood streets started to deteriorate, they often balked at fulfilling their obligations to maintain them, she said.

The (mistaken) perception was since they were paying the same town taxes as their neighbors who lived on public streets, they should be entitled to the same maintenance, Steen pointed out. However, as council members countered, if there were ever any disputes, the law should support the town’s position.

Public and private streets will be held to the same minimum standards.