Millsboro looks to a future of growth

Date Published: 
May 2013
Peninsula Crossing - Delmarva Health Pavilion-RCC.jpg

The future of Millsboro is in the eye of the beholder. Just like beauty, it all depends on who you ask.

Ask any retiree or young family who moved into town from New Jersey or New York, and they might say the future is bright — filled with nestling into their quiet house on the bay in a town with low taxes and little crime. Or ask a family who immigrated from South America, and they might say this is the land of opportunity. Ask a family who has been in the area for generations, and they might say it is constantly changing, developing at rocket-speed, and that Millsboro is not the quiet country mill town in once was.

And they would all be right.

As far as the town of Millsboro goes, it could be said that the future is now. And if the future could be summed up in one word, it would be “growth.”

Long Neck was the fastest growing municipality, at 55 percent growth from 2000 to 2010, according to Census data cited in the Sussex County Economic Development Office’s May 2013 newsletter on community data. Long Neck was so sparsely populated before then that residents were not even counted in the 1990 census, but by 2000, there were 886 residents and, by 2010, there were 1,980.

Millsboro as a whole had a 39 percent population increase from 2000 to 2010 and grew from 2,360 residents to 3,877. Sussex County’s population rose 25.9 percent in the same time period.

In addition to the residential development that is happening in town, many people living in and around Millsboro continue to see commercial development as it changes before their very eyes each day. Driving up and down Route 113 offers a daily changing landscape for travelers, with the continuation of building at Peninsula Crossing and the filling in of new tenants.

In addition to Lowe’s and B.J.’s, McDonald’s, banks, and other eateries and retail stores, Peninsula Regional Medical Center has begun construction on their Delmarva Health Pavilion, and every day the landscape changes as the shingles go up and the roof goes on.

“We are really excited about having PRMC. It’s a big plus,” said Millsboro Mayor Robert Bryan. “We get requests for information through the Chamber, for information packets, and everyone — especially retirees moving here — is concerned about health care.”

The Delmarva Health Pavilion will house a number of specialty offices in both clinical and diagnostic fields, explained Chris Hall, vice president for strategy and business development at PRMC. He said they have secured Dr. Nancy Squires as a tenant and are actively recruiting other primary care and specialty doctors. He also said it was possible that the pavilion, with spaces from 1,500 to 6,000 square feet, could house a community pharmacy, as well.

“A number of specialty practices have also expressed interest,” explained Roger Follebout Jr. of PRMC community relations.

“There is a lot of flexibility. We have a lot of ample space to accommodate a lot of folks,” he said, noting they have had a presence in the western part of Sussex, in Laurel, and also about two miles south of Millsboro, in Dagsboro, for about 20 years, and they are looking forward to be centrally located in Millsboro. The Delmarva Health Pavilion in Millsboro will replace their offices in Dagsboro.

The facility had its groundbreaking in October 2012 and has an anticipated completion date of sometime this fall. The building houses 48,000 square feet total.

Hall said they did a market study in which they took a fraction of the 100,000 or so people that are within a 20-minute drive to Millsboro and found that there would be a substantial number of people in the coming years to support the practice going forward. And, of those people, about a quarter are seniors, Hall said.

“There are 23 to 26 percent seniors in that 20-minute drive that use health care at three times the rate a normal adult does,” explained Hall. He also said that, with supply and demand, the area in and around Millsboro makes the population under-served in terms of physicians, so Millsboro seemed like a perfect fit. He quoted Thompson, Reuters & Claritas in saying that Millsboro’s own population should grow by 8.2 percent over the next five years.

“The need for a wide range of healthcare services and chronic disease management is expected to significantly increase in the next half-decade in Sussex County, and we are honored to partner with the local community to provide those services now and into the future,” added Dr. Peggy Naleppa, president and CEO of PRMC.

Hall and Follebout estimated that about 75 to 100 jobs will come from the completion of the pavilion and its tenants.

“We are really excited about coming to Millsboro,” said Follebout. “By bringing comprehensive medical care through primary and specialty practices, it eliminates travel, brings the PRMC brand to Millsboro and establishes a relationship through these physicians.

“We are the oldest, most experienced team with open heart, neurosurgery, joint replacement, delivering babies. We do it more than anyone else. The best possible outcomes are achieved here.”

Hall said their move into Millsboro not only builds relationships with potential hospital patients, but also puts the medical center more into the community and makes it more adaptive to the trend of where health care is going.

“As health care continues to evolve, we want to provide care where the community lives, not just sit back and wait until they need to come to the hospital,” said Hall. “We are moving toward more health and wellness activities, more access to primary care.”

In addition, construction has started on a PetSmart, and Burger King and Chick-fil-A have already pulled permits, according to Millsboro Town Manager Faye Lingo. It’s just a matter of time before the time is right for them to build at Peninsula Crossing.

Lingo said she was pleased with the buildout of Peninsula Crossing and the building of the Delmarva Health Pavilion. She said Millsboro has always been fortunate to have a diverse industry for jobs, with First Omni (previously known as All First and currently known as M&T Bank) employing people, as well as Intervet as a major employer and the agricultural industry keeping people afloat.

Lingo said she hopes the commercial development will bring even more opportunity for management positions and healthcare positions. She also expressed hope that the announcement of Allen Harim’s negotiations to expand its investment in the U.S. through acquiring the former Pinnacle (Vlasic) processing plant just outside Millsboro will come to fruition.

“When you have jobs, you have residents, and then housing values go up...” said Lingo. “And the more corporate jobs we get, the more management positions we can get in. It broadens the spectrum for the next generation.”

State Rep. John Atkins (D-41st) said it is important for the naysayers who look at the facility as “just another chicken processing plant” to realize that there is a major trickledown effect from a company setting up shop near town.

“Most people are very happy, but there is always the 1 percent that will say, ‘Well, it’s just another poultry processing plant.’ But people have to realize that means jobs for administration, supervisors, forklift drivers, wastewater operators, transportation specialists — these are jobs that require degrees,” he emphasized.

While it has been reported that the remodeled facility could employ 700 people year-round, with an estimated $100 million investment and be open by November 2014, company spokesperson Douglas R. Freeman said in late April that they are still in negotiations, so it would be premature to put out a number on jobs just yet.

But, the town is hopeful.

“It would be a God-send,” said Byran. “While it is not in town limits, it would majorly affect the people living in and around town.”

As far as growth in education, the Indian River School District will be implementing all-day kindergarten in all of their elementary schools this fall, including
East Millsboro Elementary and Long Neck

IRSD spokesperson Dave Maull said they will add eight additional classrooms over the next couple of years at East Millsboro and eight additional classrooms at Long Neck Elementary. He said growth and the implementation of all-day kindergarten are driving forces for that work.

East Millsboro Elementary will join John M. Clayton Elementary in Frankford in offering a Spanish-immersion class for their incoming kindergarteners, in which students are taught half the day in English and half the day in Spanish. That program is set to prepare students for advanced-level Spanish once they get to middle school and beyond.

And the town hall itself has literally grown with its recent expansion. They plan to finish a few more offices and to complete a museum — utilizing a room in the renovated town hall — to show off the rich and diverse history of the town.

As far as physical growth goes for the town itself, Bryan said they have been open to annexation and have approved annexation of all properties whose owners wanted them to be annexed into Millsboro. He said that, while there are no immediate plans for annexation in the future, the town is still poised for growth.

Lingo added that the foresight of past councils, who obtained water and sewer in the 1960s, has allowed them to be ready for the inevitable growth.

Still, there are uncertainties in how and where that growth might be.

A big unknown is Del Pointe, a proposed casino and racetrack project that had been put forth in the recent years. As a project, it is currently in limbo, waiting to see if another Delaware General Assembly will breathe new life into it with approval to expand existing gambling and racing operations.

The roughly 350- acre parcel is north of town. Developers said they would develop about 125 acres into a one-mile harness race track with grandstand and paddock, a casino with hotel and convention center, a family resort hotel with indoor waterpark and an indoor sports complex.

Also part of the proposal are a movie theater, five restaurants, a mixed-use lifestyle center with more than 180,000 square feet of retail and 50,000 square feet of office space, a power center with more than 600,000 square feet of destination retail, and outparcels fronting Route 113 with national brands of restaurant and convenience tenants.

The property sits near Sussex Central High School, off of Route 113. Bryan explained that the town council had agreed to annex it and it has been zoned fairly “liberally,” according to developer Gene Lankford.

Lankford explained that they continue to have an option to purchase the property, currently owned by the Townsend family, until June 30 of 2013, but he said he was still waiting to hear what state legislators decide about allowing another casino in Sussex County to move forward.

“If the casino doesn’t go there, it should be viable for other uses,” said Lankford of the parcel’s zoning. He emphasized that the casino, which was a sticking point with legislators in 2011, would have to be part of the project to make the project a viable one. He said local legislators have insisted that Sussex Countians don’t want it, but, he said, “We don’t believe that. We think the majority do want it, and they need jobs.”

He said it would be a “huge economic boon to Sussex County” and estimated that $60 million per year would go into the state’s general fund as a result of the facility.

“By authorizing this, the State has no risk. They can raise money and not have to raise taxes. We are hopeful that the legislature will begin to understand that the casino business has to be competitive. They have taken the position that they want to protect the current casinos, which, in our opinion, is the wrong strategy,” said Lankford.

Lankford said the State of Delaware would receive approximately $60 million per year, and the Town of Millsboro would receive about $2 million per year, plus more than $15 million in impact fees. He estimated that Sussex County would receive $150,000 and the Indian River School District would receive $900,000. He put the number of jobs at 6,000 construction-related jobs and 4,009 permanent jobs.

Atkins said he supported the project in the last General Assembly, for the jobs, recreation and shopping, but “hasn’t heard anything mentioned about it for two years.” He added that there is always a chance to bring it back for discussion.

So, sleepy little Millsboro, a town that is visibly growing on the Route 113 corridor, could in the future be home to a casino, a racetrack and a convention center. Or, that same piece of land could remain a large farm field, or possibly be something else entirely. Only time will tell.

Another big unknown for the town is their portion of the Route 113 North/South transportation study and how it would affect the people there. While a “bypass around Millsboro” was mentioned by several of the town’s players, what exactly does that mean for the town?

The bypass project — under the umbrella of something known as the Route 113 North/South Study — began with a feasibility study in 1999, prepared by DelDOT in association with Sussex County, as an answer to now-retired state Sen. George H. Bunting Jr.’s Senate Resolution 20, which called on DelDOT to determine the feasibility of a new north-south limited-access highway in Sussex County.

Over the years, DelDOT has held public meetings for each of the proposed portions of the project (Milford, Ellendale, Georgetown and Millsboro-South). But the public was divided, largely along geographical lines, as to which of several plans was the best, or whether any bypass was needed at all. Eventually, all work ceased on the Milford portion because of a lack of consensus by lawmakers.

In early 2011, Gov. Jack Markell suspended the project — which runs in three sections from Ellendale to the Maryland line — in its entirety, after heavy media coverage of concerns about the project and questions about some of the project’s land “reservation agreements” and DelDOT’s authority to enter into such agreements. Those questions led to a highly critical report by Markell’s chief of staff and the subsequent resignations and firings of some DelDOT officials.

Also in response to the media inquiries and constituent outrage over the reservation deals, in 2011 Sussex County legislators began to vocally oppose going forward with the Blue alternative for the Millsboro-South portion of the project.

The Blue alternative — which is the longest eastern bypass option and has the highest price tag, at an estimated $687 million to $839 million for construction and right-of-way purchases — was identified by DelDOT officials in May of 2007, and again in May of 2010, as the “preliminary” recommended preferred alternative for the Millsboro-South portion of the project.

The Blue Alternative of the Millsboro-South portion of the U.S. 113 North/South Study begins north of the Route 113 and Hardscrabble Road intersection. The alternative intersects Barks Pond Road and travels southeast almost parallel to Route 24, going over Gravel Hill Road, Hollyville Road, Maryland Camp Road and Swan Creek, and through the proposed Ferry Cove development just east of Mountaire’s Millsboro facility.

It then continues south over the Indian River, almost parallel to Power Plant Road, but then stays east and crosses Piney Neck Road in Dagsboro, crossing Pepper Creek and Vines Creek Road (Route 26). At Route 26, there would be on- and off-ramps to go either in the direction of Dagsboro or to the beaches.

There would also be on- and off-ramps to get on Route 20, or Armory Road, or people who want to travel through would simply continue on the bypass toward Selbyville. The bypass will continue east of the former Frankford Elementary School (now known as the George W. Carver Educational Center, which houses several other educational programs, but still located on Frankford School Road). It would run parallel to Lazy Lagoon Road and then connect back in to the “on-alignment” section of Route 113, near Parker Road.

After legislators met with new DelDOT Secretary Shailen P. Bhatt in the summer of 2011, they said they had good discussions about what was needed and the project was “back on track.”

The coverage of the land deals, the shakeup at the state agency, the plans for the project in general and its potential effect on southeastern Sussex County forced the legislators — some of whom had been involved in the project since the notion of major changes to Route 113 had first been generated, and some of whom were new to the project — to consider what is actually needed.

Besides the obvious objections to taxpayer money being spent to rent land that might or might not be used for a long-range project — in the case of the Georgetown section, DelDOT paid out $402,632.15 to the developers of The Fountains of Georgetown alone, before it was determined that that particular land would not be needed — legislators overwhelmingly objected to any new route south of Route 24.

All agreed that some sort of improvement was needed to address current and future congestion in Millsboro, but none were openly supporting anything south of Route 24. Many were for “on-alignment” changes, which would mean improving the existing Route 113, but they were not as supportive of disrupting generational farms for the sake of a “bypass to nowhere,” as one legislator called it.

Something they did agree on was needed improvements on Route 113.

DelDOT is currently rehabbing several intersections on Route 113 that were points of concern from legislators. In the Millsboro area, they include intersections at Route 20/Thompsonville Road, at Sheep Pen Road/Bark Pond Road, at Cricket Street/Molly Field Road, at Radish Road/2nd Street, at Hickory Hill Road/Delaware Avenue and at Dagsboro Road (Route 20)/Handy Road.

According to DelDOT’s Web site, the proposed intersection improvements may include (but are not limited to) “median channelization and/or median closures to restrict certain movements to address safety and operational concerns at each intersection. The safety projects will minimize conflicts at the intersection while accommodating the heaviest turning movements and diverting traffic volumes to nearby intersections.”

Regarding the bypass, in late April, Monroe Hite of DelDOT, former project manager for the Route 113 North/South Study, said the agency is finalizing the environmental document and that it should be available for public comment later this year.

He said that, with the fallout from the scrutiny in late 2010, they are “back where we started.” All five alternatives that were originally considered — including two eastern alternatives, three western alternatives and one on-alignment alternative — will be presented. The Blue Alternative is still the “preferred route,” he said, and no matter what they decide, it will be at least a decade or more before anything is constructed.

The study was designed to be able to be implemented in sections, and depending on how it all pans out, Millsboro could have a bypass independent of other portions of the project.

Whatever happens with the bypass, or Del Pointe, or any other big future change to the landscape that is Millsboro, there is undeniable growth on the Route 113 corridor and exploding growth on Route 24. The makeup of the town and its people continues to be diverse and, with new commercial ventures, it seems like jobs may be plentiful in the area in the future.

But, with all that growth, town officials hope it remains a place people not only want to visit but where they want to live — and not because of the new construction or the commercialization, but because they feel at home when they get there.

“We have the new Millsboro Bakery downtown,” noted Lingo. “And that is the kind of business you want in the downtown area. While we waited a long time for another big-block building near B.J.s and are hopeful for other big stores, you also want the small-town charm of the downtown stores. And you want to make people feel welcome, because the town is the people who live there and how welcome they feel when they come, not the buildings.”