With comp plan update on tap, Millville encourages involvement

If people are concerned or unsure about how Millville Town Hall is run, “Come in here, folks, and talk to us,” said Town Manager Debbie Botchie.

The Millville Town Council spent most of their May 22 workshop discussing the broad subject of public education and participation.

The public is always invited to come ask questions at Town Hall.

“The Town is here from 8:30 to 4:30, and whenever a resident comes in here, we give them what they want to see,” Botchie said. “We’d rather have them come in here and get corrections, rather than continue to stir the pot.”

For instance, when she is invited to speak at local neighborhoods, Botchie said she asks for a list of desired topics, and then she creates a PowerPoint presentation or asks the expert Town Hall staff to contribute.

The staff are “more than willing” to help answer questions for the public, Botchie said. Many residents come to Town Hall for one-on-one conversations, too.

The issue was broached by Deputy Mayor Steve Maneri, who lives in the Millville by the Sea community and said he sees first-hand the frustrations of property owners living in a neighborhood under construction. He proposed a clear route for the Town to answer questions and help residents understand codes.

Residents are “in the middle and don’t know which way the Town goes,” Maneri said. “If the HOAs have a problem, I think we should be involved … help them, if we can.”

“Occasionally, the answer is going to be, ‘We don’t have control over that,’” warned Town Solicitor Seth Thompson.

Local governments only have certain jurisdiction over a developer. The Town maintains laws, but doesn’t intervene in contractual affairs of HOA covenants.

“The Town does not get involved with the developer, the residents and their HOA and their contractual agreement,” Botchie said after the meeting. “Residents who live in HOAs want to know why the Town can’t do more about [various issues], which we explain to them that the developer has a public works agreement, and a landscape agreement with the Town.”

Millville requires snow to be removed, grass mowing and landscaping, plus roads and sidewalks built to specific parameters.

“The Town regulates the development process. … Local government is designed to promote the health, safety and general welfare,” not aesthetics, such as house color or yard design, said Thompson.

The town council already hosts bi-monthly town council meetings on Tuesday nights, where people can ask questions and raise issues. In fact, one resident took advantage of the opportunity to ask about the placement of a traffic sign, and Botchie agreed to follow up on the matter.

Other ideas included hosting informal “coffee with council” sessions; creating a public liaison committee; or hosting an educational session on the role of Town Hall, basic town laws, the Freedom of Information Act and more.

“There’s a lot we can do to educate,” Botchie said.

Those in attendance at the meeting said they also liked the idea of HOA representatives gathering together to learn from each other and compare notes on common problems.

“Most people in HOAs, like myself, are transplants” who are trying to learn Delaware and local laws, said Wally Bartus, a resident of Millville By the Sea, adding that he supported any kind of public education. For instance, he said, he only recently learned about his neighborhood’s public works agreement.

Botchie emphasized the importance of calling Town Hall for information, rather than spreading false news. She referenced emails that have circulated among the public, which she said contain inaccuracies.

Various council members offered to help or visit neighborhoods, and Mayor Bob Gordon encouraged discussions to either occur at Town Hall or with Town Hall staff, who are the experts in the finances, code and other aspects of Town business.

Councilman Peter Michel said that Town Hall staff already do great job responding to issues during daily operating hours. People also access public council meetings, an active website and newspaper reports.

Those in attendance also applauded the council and staff for jobs well done.

Now is actually the best time to contribute to Millville’s future, town officials said, as residents, property owners and business owners are being asked to complete an online survey. The results will help guide writing of the 10-year Comprehensive Plan update for a variety of issues, including land use, housing, transportation, utilities, town and community services, economic development, recreation and more.

A Comprehensive Plan is an official statement about Millville’s future that is used to direct future development decisions, as required by law. The online survey is available on the Town website, at www.millville.delaware.gov.

In other Millville Town Council news, the group had to clarify a previous vote with a bit of parliamentary housekeeping.

They had on May 8 voted to reject a conditional-use application for Millville Residential LLC to build 24 townhomes on a 4.2-acre parcel at the Millville Town Center 3 subdivision. The council motion at that time was to reject the application. But when the council members unanimously voted “no,” meaning “no” to the application, they had technically denied not the application but the motion to reject the application, leaving the issue unresolved.

They reassembled on May 22 to re-vote and clarify their rejection of the project.

The next regular meeting of the Millville Town Council will be Tuesday, June 12, at 7 p.m.

By Laura Walter
Staff Reporter