Can everyone really afford to live in Millsboro? As the municipality brainstorms about its future in the 10-year Comprehensive Plan update, they recently discussed possibly allowing smaller or more creative kinds of housing.
The big question is “What type of housing is appropriate for your town, based on demographics?” said Savannah Edwards, a planner with AECOM who is consulting with the Town on the comp plan update.
Eastern Sussex County has attracted so many retirees that 40 percent of the population is now 55 or older, Edwards said.
But while Millsboro might naturally attract older folks because of the state’s low taxes, town officials said they want to balance that with Millennials who can fill the resulting service jobs or who want to put down roots.
And sometimes, Baby Boomers and Millennials want the same thing: smaller homes and less maintenance.
Many Millennials want entry-level units: apartments, condos and townhouses. Baby Boomers are downsizing to smaller lots, condos, townhouses and “cluster-type” communities.
Micro-housing is a new trend of tiny homes or apartments that are inexpensive but still provide shelter for people who don’t need much space.
“Loosely defined as 500 square feet or less,” it’s a non-transient dwelling that still provides sleeping, kitchen and bathroom areas, Edwards said.
Some apartments, recreational vehicles and modular homes meet that definition.
“Millennials want this option because they’re tackling student debt. They want mobility. They don’t want a large investment at this time in life,” Edwards said.
“Savannah attests this research shows it’s good to have good balance, in terms of your age demographic, and this is very popular among Millennials,” echoed Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “So if we can, as a town, start moving in this direction, it would be helpful in our efforts to attract young people.”
Edwards said she doesn’t know of other Delaware towns that allow micro-housing, but detached accessory dwellings are permitted elsewhere. A Milton neighborhood has condos that are disguised as “big houses,” as well as the usual townhouses and single-family homes.
“I don’t know that tiny homes are a fit for Millsboro, but that’s where the conversation started, and we’re trying to … meet that [age] gap,” Edwards said.
Even if Millsboro isn’t ready for micro-housing, the Town could consider allowing more creative options in their code: studio apartments, tiny homes on a half-acre or even smaller lots in a “village-type” neighborhood.
“Studio apartments can be 500, 800 square feet. That is something that is doable and in the interest of Millennials,” Edwards said.
Or, the town council could increase permitted density, so apartment buildings don’t have to have the same density as townhomes.
“We’re trying to meet that gap. There is possibly a missing piece here for what people could afford,” Edwards said.
People might want a detached accessory dwelling unit, such as a separate miniature house that aging parents, young adults or renters could use, located on the same lot as the main house.
No decisions on the issue were made at the March town council meeting, as Edwards said she just wanted to get a feel for what council might like to see as they draft the comprehensive plan update.
Although some town council members seemed baffled as to why anyone would want to live in s small space, Council Member James Kells said he has seen “nice” looking micro-housing in Pennsylvania: “They look like they’re regular homes, but tiny!”
But how do people keep the property looking nice, without inside belongings spilling outside, asked Council Member Michelle Truitt. Housing complexes would likely have amenities, such as storage units, bike racks or even just a storage shed on the personal property, Edwards explained.
Meanwhile, developers plan to rehab Millsboro Village and the Old Landing apartments, including making some minor physical additions to help the neighborhoods meet Delaware State Housing Authority standards. Old Landing got final site approval from the Town, pending some other agency approvals. Millsboro Landing will need a variance hearing and approval to extend 4 feet into the setback.
In other Millsboro Town Council news from March:
• For the future dog park, the Town will continue researching designs and costs. Dog parks can range from something like the simple, fenced-in area that is open to the public in Snow Hill, Md., to the privately-managed, members-only park in Lewes.
• For safety and liability reasons, the town council directed that only town staff should be operating the Town’s heavy machinery. Groups such as the Little League can still request that chores be done, but only town staff should be using the new equipment, including the backhoe or dump truck, they said.
• The town council will pursue annexing a new property into town. The incoming Route 113 hotel (which is currently selecting a brand under which it will operate) has asked to annex an adjacent lot for parking (Tax map ID 233-5.00-8.00). A public hearing will be scheduled before the final vote.
• To improve traffic safety, the Town will request improvements to the Routes 113/24 intersection, such as adding street lights, widening the intersection and tweaking the traffic pattern.
“Traffic is here to stay. It’s really more about traffic management than traffic elimination,” Hudson said.
State Rep. Rich Collins (R-41) will likely also request a state traffic study on a “third bridge” over the Indian River, connecting Millsboro’s Route 24 toward Dagsboro. (The public largely rejected a similar proposal about five years ago, leading DelDOT to revise its plans and eliminate the so-called “Blue Route” proposal for the Route 113 corridor.)
• Police Chief Brian Calloway announced two lifesaving awards, each including honorary uniform pins, presented to Ptmn. Liana Dodson for performing CPR on a patient and to Cpl. Matthew Dufour for reviving an overdose victim with naloxone. Calloway said he hopes to recognize Millsboro officers throughout the year, not just at the annual awards for first-responders.
• What is the responsibility of a police officer versus code enforcement officer? Town staff will begin a code review to clarify which offenses merit police action, versus code enforcement.
“We need to look at every one of these and ask, ‘Who’s going to take care of these, and who’s going to respond after-hours?’” Calloway said.
The Millsboro Town Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, April 1, at 7 p.m.
By Laura Walter