Council OKs zoning change for former Schwartz property

DOVER — Plans to develop property once owned by the late Muriel Schwartz, pioneering theater owner and Dover civic leader, took a positive step after city council voted for a requested zone change regarding the property during last night’s meeting.

Currently 801 N. State St. is zoned RG-3, which allows group housing. Gold Coast LLC applied for it to be changed to C-2A, meaning it would be zoned as limited central commercial.

But at its March 16 meeting, the city’s Planning Commission rejected the rezoning.

City planning director Ann Marie Townshend said members of the planning commission didn’t believe the proposed use was compelling enough to change the property’s zoning.

It deferred the matter to council to be considered after members either approve or disapprove amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan.

Council unanimously voted 6-0 against the planning commission’s decision.

Under the current RG-3 zoning for that site, commercial development is not allowed. However, it is surrounded by both commercial and residential properties such as Big Lots, the Countrie Eatery, Compass Point and the Overlook at Silver Lake.

During its March 16 meeting, comments on the proposed amendment included approving the request to create another commercial pocket 1.3 miles north from the center of Dover’s Downtown Development District, creating further competition with efforts to revitalize downtown.

There are already properties that can be developed for commercial use without requiring an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan or the Zoning Map.

“I think they made a mistake,” Councilman David Anderson said. “All of us drive by the area and we know that it is a commercial area and it should be one.”

“It’s consistent with the character of North State Street and we have a whole city of commercial properties and we’re trying to develop the whole city and not just one area,”

Council President David Bonar agreed.

“I believe it is in the best interest of the community and conforms with surrounding commercial establishments in the area,” Mr. Bonar said.

In its application, Gold Coast stated the proposed C-2A zoning would be compatible with property to the west and north of the site. It also said the existing infrastructure — sewer, water, roadways, etc. — will support the proposed zoning.

In an earlier interview, L.D. Shank, managing member of Gold Coast, said the property will be used for retail businesses and professional offices.

Nearly two acres, the property overlooking Silver Lake is located on the east side of North State Street between the Silver Lake Bridge and Lepore Road.

Mr. Shank and Gold Coast said the limited commercial zoning would allow them to develop the property’s features and unique qualities as a showcase for the quality of life in Dover.

Ms. Schwartz, who died in December at age 100, operated the iconic Capitol Theater in downtown Dover, now the site of the restored Schwartz Center for the Arts.

A public hearing with the planning commission will be held May 18 and another public hearing and final reading with council will be on June 8.

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