Update: 200-acre medical campus envisioned for Milford

MILFORD — As COVID-19 has brought issues like hospital capacity to the fore, one developer has set out to expand the amount of medical space available in Milford.

R&R Realty, a Dover-based commercial real estate company, just publicly listed Elmer Fannin’s Innovation Park property on Bucks Road and Sussex 206 in Milford across Del. 1 from Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus.

“We just opened it up and are making the property available now,” Mr. Fannin said of his 200-acre parcel, which is currently just an empty field. He hopes it will further his vision of Delaware becoming “the medical capital of the East Coast.”

With the right occupants, Mr. Fannin said the property would make Milford a regionwide health care destination.

R&R Realty, a Dover-based commercial real estate company, envisions a large medical campus on the 200-acre property on Bucks Road and Sussex 206 in Milford across Del. 1 from Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus. (Submitted graphic)

“If you drew a circle around Milford (for) a three-and-a-half, four-hour drive,” he said, “you would be taking in probably a third of the population of the United States that’s in all these big cities.”

Mr. Fannin said that for specialized medical services, people “don’t mind driving three or four hours away or flying from somewhere to get to that health care.”

But he was sure many potential patients are even closer than that, given the high density of elderly people and transplanted retirees in Delaware who often need more medical attention.

“I think southern Delaware, or Delaware in general, is a targeted area for people to retire,” said Rob Pierce, Milford’s city planner, “just because the cost of living is less, taxes are lower. People like to be closer to the beach.”

Mr. Pierce also talked about the lot’s unique “institutional service” zoning, a status it shares with the nearby Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus, which he said was meant “to further the public health, safety and welfare by providing a location for schools, government buildings and uses, health care-related uses and all other health care facilities,” according to Milford’s zoning code.

Because of this flexible zoning, it’s largely unclear what the development of the lot would look like even though R&R has put out a press release with artwork demonstrating some possibilities for the space.

“With projects this big, I think they come in all shapes and sizes,” said Ian Gronau, R&R’s communications manager.

Mr. Fannin compared the way medical campuses are developed to the way shopping malls are usually populated with stores.

“One major general (developer) would put it together and start developing the complex,” he said. They would be responsible for facilitating construction for “all the different medical people that want to come out and build, whether it’s a surgical center or it’s assisted living or a cancer center or whatever.”

Mr. Gronau said the main appeal of this lot to developers is that it’s “shovel-ready.”

He said those “looking into developing a medical campus like this can literally spend years and years getting all the requisite zoning and engineering hookups and infrastructure and everything,” but that with this space, “all that is already there and all that work is already done. … This just takes a developer with a vision, and they just need to submit a site plan and start building.”

Mr. Pierce pushed back on the idea that developing the space would be that simple.

“It’s raw land at this point,” he said. “They still have to go through all the land-use review processes.”

He said the last official record the city has of anything happening with the lot is from 2007, when it was annexed into Milford. This was initially done so Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus, would have a lot on which to expand, but instead, it ended up buying a space on the west side of Del. 1, which has still not been built out.

While Mr. Pierce confirmed that the lot is hooked up to Milford’s water supply, he said, “there’s no sanitary sewer structure on that side of the highway yet.”

“Any land-use application that would come in associated with any development on that property,” he said, “would have to go through the processes with the city of Milford and any state agency that would be required to review it, like (the Delaware Department of Transportation) or the conservation district or the fire marshal.”

But Mr. Fannin said the desire to develop new medical spaces is strong.

“Health care is certainly a hot topic now,” he said. “I think sometimes, we were taking it for granted, but I think with COVID-19, (people are) more conscious that we need to be thinking about it and planning ahead.”

“It’s tough to react when something like this comes along,” Mr. Fannin said, especially “with the aging population and all the services that are needed.”