The Millville Town Council has unanimously approved a shooting ban inside town limits, but assuaged the concerns of some by making allowances for hunting.
No one may fire any firearm, air gun, bow and arrow, slingshot or “any weapon capable of propelling a missile by explosion of powder, compression of air, springs, or any other means,” states Ordinance 19-01. The ban does not include BB guns.
However, law-enforcement may fire weapons in their official line of duty. Also, property owners can shoot on any parcel of land at least 15 acres, except within 200 yards of any residence or 15 yards of any road serving more than just that parcel. Visitors shooting must carry written permission from the owner.
People must also abide by Delaware code, which lays out hunting rules in Title 7, Chapter 7: “No person, except the owner or occupant, shall discharge a firearm within 100 yards of an occupied dwelling, house or residence or any barn, stable or any other building…”
The issue was raised by people in the more residential areas of town who were concerned about bullets flying around the neighborhood, including when a bullet hit a house in Millville By the Sea.
“It’s very disconcerting. From spring to winter, there can be shooting out there two, three, four times a week, depending on the weather,” said Cathy Scheck, who lives in a housing development near open land. “There’s a lot of traffic going by, my house backs up to it.
“I don’t have a problem with gun ownership, especially legal ownership, but as we have more and more residential [homes], cars going by, traffic going by, pets, people — it’s a challenge. It’s only going to increase.”
But hunters made their presence known.
“We live off the land. All our kids, we raise ’em to be like that. And I’d hate to see something like that taken away from us,” said Ted Banks, a fourth-generation property owner in Millville. “If you have the land, you should be able to do what you want to do with the land. … It’s just a Sussex County thing.”
In April, the town council has originally considered a complete shooting ban, until hunter James Powell reminded them that hunting still occurs on large parcels, especially where deer and birds are overpopulated.
Mayor Bob Gordon said he was grateful for the public input, since “15 acres is a far cry from where this code started. Thank goodness Mr. Powell brought that to our attention.”
David Hudson said he supported the ordinance, but he discussed the broader impacts of development.
“We have a farm here. It’s our way of life, and it puts money in our pocket and food on the table,” said Hudson, a 43-year resident. “One issue we have with all the building recently is the crowding of the geese,” due to open land being converted into houses with stormwater management ponds.
“Now we have resident geese that are tearing up our field, like snow geese ripping out our winter wheat. … What makes it beautiful is the open air and the open fields and woods that we have here. We want to maintain that. If we’re not able to maintain that and be profitable, we’ll be looking to sell off more farmland and diminishing what I think is a beautiful area.”
Millville’s new law only impacts the firing of weapons, not gun ownership or transport.
Council rejects townhomes
The town council unanimously rejected a conditional-use permit request that would allow Millville Residential LLC, to build a neighborhood of townhomes, although it was initially intended as such when part of the Millville Town Center 3 subdivision.
The property (TMP#134-12.00-396.00) butts up against the rear of fire company property, with a panhandle entrance from Dukes Drive.
It is zoned RPC, which requires a mixture of housing, said Ring Lardner Davis, representing engineering firm Davis, Bowen & Friedel Inc. He proposed 24 townhomes on 4.2892 acres, which is less than the 10 acres required in town code. The site was initially part of a larger project, which would have allowed it to meet the density goals.
Council members cited the density, traffic issues and the town comprehensive plan’s goal to preserve open space.
But, eventually, something will be built there, pointed out Council Member Ron Belinko.
Nearby residents opposed the plan, saying they were concerned with increasing traffic near the future playground; increased population and density (although a previous town council had previously approved higher density there).
The density would have been about 5.6 units per acre, which is less than the 6.2 units per acre standard, and even less than some places in Millville By the Sea, which is 8 units per acre in some areas, said Town Manager Debbie Botchie.
They brought more detailed plans than required, but the council and the public shouldn’t truly debate the site layout until later in the site plan approval process, officials said.
Legally, the site is zoned RPC, which requires a mixture of housing types, such as apartments, townhomes and single-family. The parcel was initially intended as another phase, to diversify the housing options in the neighboring Villas at Cedar Cove. When they couldn’t connect the utility points, the 4.2892-acre parcel was left over, and the permits expired there after three years of no building.
Now, a neighborhood of just townhomes could only be built with a conditional-use permit, or the owner could rezone the parcel as residential to build a few houses.
The town solicitor reminded the council that their job this week was to consider the effect on neighboring properties, intent of the Town’s comprehensive plan, adequate parking and more.
The proposed 24 units would be 20 or 22 feet wide, 60 feet deep and three stories high. The Sussex Conservation District and the local tax ditch association supported the proposed stormwater plans, Lardner said.
Because they would bring sewer and water down Dukes Drive, they even suggested a partnership to share costs with the future town park, which will be located two lots away.
In other Millville Town Council news:
• The Planning & Zoning Commission will meet on May 22 at 2 p.m., to review a conditional-use application from Cellco Partnership, d/b/a Verizon Wireless, requesting cellular infrastructure at the top of the existing elevator penthouse building located at 35786 Atlantic Avenue (My Eye Doctor).
• Two residents complained of the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s audible siren. Michelle Lips said that people with medical problems cannot always fall back asleep when awakened by the town-wide call.
Longtime MVFC member Harold Lloyd countered that when people hear the alarm, they can be grateful that their house isn’t on fire and their families are safe, and, “Then you can roll over and go back to sleep.”
“In today’s day and age, there are ways to manage the alarms without disturbing the public. … The [fire company] could utilize alternative methods for connecting with their staff, instead of a method that disturbs the public at large,” said Valerie Faden.
• Town Clerk Matt Amerling was honored for his nearly six years of service, in recognition of Municipal Clerks Week.
• Administratively, rules for temporary tents were moved out of the zoning code and into licensing procedure for special events.
The Millville Town Council’s next workshop meeting is Tuesday, May 22, at 7 p.m.
By Laura Walter