Ocean View puts a hold on water

Work on Ocean View’s central water system is still scheduled to begin some time soon, but more likely during the summer, rather than in March, as predicted this time last year.

Town council heard an update from engineer Chuck Hauser (of Davis, Bowen & Friedel) at the Feb. 1 council meeting.

According to Hauser, they had expected to get the revised designs for the water system to the various governmental agencies by October, but it took until December.

That pushed back agency approvals, and he said they were still waiting on a few of them.

• The State Fire Marshal’s Office has signed off on the plans.

• Hauser has received comments from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS), regarding the location of valves and mains, but hasn’t addressed them yet.

• The engineers are waiting on comments from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

• Hauser hasn’t submitted to the Sussex Conservation District yet, hoping to address the comments from the other agencies first.

The key approval remains the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The town has hinged the $3.8 million project on the USDA’s approval for financing.

Hauser will need that approval before he can advertise for bids.

“The USDA has a set of the plans, and has reviewed them, but is waiting on all the other permits,” he said.

Council Member Eric Magill led the water committee that put the finance package together last year.

While few people opposed the new infrastructure, many more objected to the mandatory hookup. However, a non-binding referendum last February returned a 220-139 vote in favor of the deal.

The town had to require mandatory hookup for the lots to be served by the new system in order to be considered for the financing, but the USDA interest rate is quite low.

At the time, Magill anticipated the town would repay the loan at 4.625 percent over a 40-year term.

At the Feb. 1 meeting, he said it might actually be even lower — perhaps 4.5 percent.

Hauser said the paperwork should be complete by March, at which time he would begin advertising for construction bids.

He expected to award them by May.

“We may start work over the summer, but we wouldn’t be working on the state roads (Route 26),” Hauser said. “We’d focus on the less-heavily traveled town streets first.”

He recommended the town start talking to DelDOT about transportation enhancement funding, since tearing up the streets would be a good time to put in bike paths and pedestrian facilities.

In related water business, council turned down a request from Tidewater Utilities (the company that will eventually become the town’s water supplier).

Tidewater had received a request for central water at a parcel on Route 26, and asked council for permission to go ahead and build a section of the central water system now.

They would perform the work at their own expense and wait for the town to reimburse them.

Hauser recommended the town consider reimbursing Tidewater only at the per-foot charge (for sewer main) that they would be paying for the much larger project.

“The issue is economies of scale,” he said.

However, council’s main concern was setting a precedent — if they approved tomorrow’s water today for one parcel, others along the row, and then behind it, might expect the same consideration.

Council also considered a request from Carl Freeman Communities that would place the town in the position of grantee for various conservation easements.

Freeman’s Doug Brown brought the request, and pointed out the areas on a map. They are scattered here and there around Bear Trap (28.2 acres), and on the golf course (6.3 acres).

According to Brown, the town could inspect the easements, possibly on an annual basis, and bring any problems or concerns to Bear Trap’s attention.

Ed Launay (Environmental Resources, Inc.) said Bear Trap would probably set up a checklist for the Ocean View building inspector, and reimburse the town for that work.

“It should be pretty minimal — maybe $500 a year,” added Brown.

Launay said Bear Trap could achieve the same objective through deed restrictions, but the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the Army Corps of Engineers preferred third-party involvement.

He said conservation groups typically looked for large blocks of forestland, and probably wouldn’t consider a deal like this.

Mayor Gary Meredith jokingly asked town attorney Dennis Schrader to look over the inch-thick document and give council a recommendation in the morning.

Council members also considered their response to the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce’s push for a center lane on the “SR 26 Mainline” project (Assawoman Canal to Clarksville).

Residents and business owners have questioned the DelDOT designs, saying they have changed little since the late 1990s.

Council spoke with one voice regarding a reluctance to disturb the slow progress toward the projected 2008 construction start.

However, the chamber’s Steve Wode (public policy) said the center lane hadn’t been on Bethany’s plan, either (Route 1 to the Assawoman Canal), but they had pushed for one and gotten it.

Wode recognized it would be a tight squeeze through certain sections, and requesting changes might delay the project, but added, “If they build it the way it’s designed, it isn’t going to be any better.”

He characterized the project as a one-shot deal — once work is complete, DelDOT would be unlikely to come back and revisit Route 26 for additional upgrades any time soon.

Magill asked Police Chief Ken McLaughlin’s opinion. McLaughlin said the center lane could be extremely beneficial for emergency vehicles and ambulances, but he echoed council’s concerns that any changes now could slow DelDOT’s momentum.

In the end, council agreed to send a letter to DelDOT, with copies to elected officials and neighboring towns, suggesting a center lane would be beneficial.

In other business, council voted 4-1 to extend the moratorium on new subdivisions, until May 9. Council Member Norm Amendt opposed.

Council held public hearing on two zoning ordinances, tabling both until next month.

• Density computation in subdivisions — streets, stormwater management, wetlands and utility easements would be removed from total acreage before figuring the density.

• Max cap on subdivisions at 10 acres — anything larger would have to come in as a residential-planned community (RPC). This would apply to District 3 only, which is mainly Bear Trap and areas proposed for expansion.

In new business, council introduced two additional zoning ordinances.

• Larger signs for parcels with two or more businesses.

• Only single-family RPCs in District 2, which encompasses most of town, except for the Route 26 corridor (District 1) and District 3, as above.

Council Member Bill Wichmann asked the town to approve an expanded scope of work for architect John Fellgraff, who is working on the new police station.

The other council members agreed, but set an interim cap of $10,000 on expenses associated with additional engineering and permit approvals, etc.

McLaughlin presented his annual report, which detailed increases in all areas.

The most marked increase was in fugitive arrests, up 50 percent to 81.

Traffic accidents increased by 33 percent and traffic arrests by 41 percent.

Council reappointed two new members to the town board of assessment – Peter Chabon and Carolyn Lewis — and welcomed newcomer Felice Arnold.

Garland Saville joined the board of supervisors of elections, as an alternate.

Mayor Gary Meredith announced another member of election board had thrown his hat in the ring for the mayoral candidacy — Wally Brown.

Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commissioner Joe Evans, in attendance at the meeting, agreed to take Brown’s place as an alternate.