Dagsboro’s DDD pitch ‘total waste of time and money’

DAGSBORO — Georgetown, Seaford, Milford and Laurel are among eight municipalities benefiting from Delaware’s Downtown Development District program.

The town of Dagsboro is not.

For the second time in three years, Dagsboro failed to make the grade for acceptance in the incentive-driven program, which aims to spur capital investment in commercial business districts and neighborhoods, job growth, commercial vitality and improve housing opportunities.

Dagsboro Town Administrator Cindi Brought isn’t happy.

“It was like, a total waste of time and money,” said Ms. Brought.

Earlier this year, several large areas in Dagsboro’s town limits were identified in the town’s application submitted to the Office of State Planning Coordination (OSPC).

Specifically, the town’s application encompassed the former Heathmann Jewelers property on Main Street, which Matthew and Karen Kern had proposed to turn into an upscale restaurant/bar between the Clayton Theatre and Bodenweiser properties on Main Street.

Town leaders were hopeful that Dagsboro, whose first application was turned down in 2016, would be more attractive to potential developers with DDD designation.

In rejecting the town’s application, the Office of State Planning Coordination indicated the town did not demonstrate “sufficient resources” and the “incentive package was not substantial,” among several other reasons.

What is most irritating, Ms. Brought says, is several trips that she and Kyle Gulbronson, the town’s consultant with AECOM, made to Dover for presentations were all in vain.

“They already knew that we weren’t qualified or going to be qualified,” Ms. Brought said. “I was just livid. We did the presentation already knowing, because they read that report to you first.”

Cindi Brought

In its application summary, the town stated the proposed district encompasses 78 acres, containing 99 parcels zoned town center and a gridded street network around Main Street and Clayton Street.

“Confronted with overwhelming traffic on the state arterials, Dagsboro is losing its small-town character and identity,” the town’s application stated. “Thousands of people drive through the town center to get to and from the beaches and retail areas of Route 113, yet many bypass the local businesses. Establishing downtown Dagsboro as a destination and encouraging growth of local businesses while protecting small-town charm is the key vision for Dagsboro’s DDD.”

The OSPC’s comments on Dagsboro’s application acknowledged the it “is focused on bringing people into the town as a destination to be able to compete with neighboring beach towns. The goals are to protect small-town charm and grow local business. While the application does not show need, it is apparent that the impact a program such as this would have on the town could be substantial.”

“With that said,” the OSPC’s commentary continued, “the town has underestimated the staff time that should be budgeted for a program such as the DDD. The town did not demonstrate sufficient resources for the DDD administration. In addition, the stated purpose to the town was to alleviate traffic, which is an unrealistic goal to be addressed by the DDD designation. The incentive package was not substantial, and the application and the plan were conflicting on the local incentives. Specifically, there was an incentive outlined in the plan that was not included in the application. It was, in our opinion, the most significant incentive, yet it was not clear if the incentive was intended to be part of this plan or left in the plan from the 2016 submission because it was not mentioned in the application.”

The Downtown Development Districts Act of 2014 was enacted by the General Assembly to:

• Spur private capital investment in commercial business districts and other neighborhoods;

• Stimulate job growth and improve the commercial vitality of such districts and neighborhoods;

• Help build a stable community of long term residents by improving housing opportunities; and

• Assist municipalities in strengthening neighborhoods while harnessing the attraction that vibrant downtowns hold for talented people, innovative small businesses and residents from all walks of life.

In 2015, Dover, Seaford, Wilmington landed Downtown Development District designations. Five more municipalities — Georgetown, Laurel, Milford, Harrington and Smyrna — have landed DDD designations.

Investors who make qualified improvements to residential, commercial, or industrial properties in those districts may qualify for state and local development incentives, including 20 percent state grant rebates.

Recently, Gov. John Carney and the Delaware State Housing Authority announced 12 downtown revitalization projects in Milford, Smyrna and Wilmington were selected to receive funding through the Downtown Development Districts program, with $5.5 million in rebates leveraging $103 million in total investment.

From fiscal years 2015-2018, in the eight designated districts there were 56 small projects and 63 large projects, supported by $24 million in state investment, leveraged by $420 million in private investment.

None of that is happening in Dagsboro.

“As far as I am concerned no small town will ever receive that because it’s all about housing problems, environmental problems,” Ms. Brought said. “We’re not big enough to ever qualify. So as far as I am concerned, and I told the council, as long as I am here this will never happen again. And it shouldn’t happen with any council in the future. We were turned down in 2016. They made me feel like. ‘Oh yes, you’ve got a great chance this time.’ We had no chance … total waste of time and money.”

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