Del. 24 property in Millsboro offered for recreational use

MILLSBORO — Rural property owned by the town of Millsboro once eyed as a potential western “gateway” is now earmarked for recreation with an eye on youth.

Recreational activities — soccer, baseball and similar sports — comprise the planned public use for a grassy portion of the approximate 11 acres located along the south side of Del. 24 near the intersection with Godwin School Road. It is located on the town’s western edge.

“The thought is, it is not being used for anything else,” said Millsboro Town Councilman Jim Kells. “It’s a great opportunity, to have that space available. My thought is, just start opening it up. It’s just sitting there.”

While no formal action was taken, council members and town staff at the Monday Town Council meeting shared thoughts about the property — from proposed location of the recreational field area to temporary/permanent fencing, signage and safety concerns.

The prevailing major issue: pedestrian traffic crossing Del. 24, a well-traveled two-lane roadway near Godwin School Road.

“I think that is the biggest concern, is getting across Route 24 safely,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “It’s a 45-mile-per-hour zone, and that park is close to a curve, a fairly pronounced curve. That is my only real reservation: How do you get people from A to B safely? I think beyond that, I have no objection.”

If allowed, parking for the facility could be very limited.

“If you opened that park area up to vehicular traffic, then that is going to trigger entrance approvals from (the Delaware Department of Transportation),” said Millsboro Public Works Director Kenny Niblett. “And also, any fencing that would be placed would have to be placed outside of DelDOT right of way.”

In addressing Millsboro Mayor Michelle Truitt’s concerns about the possibility of children crossing Del. 24 to fetch errant soccer balls or baseballs, council’s consensus was that an ideal location would be the indented portion in the back of the property.

“The idea of moving it back to the indented section at the rear of the property is an excellent idea, if you are going to open it up for pickup games,” said Mr. Niblett.

Mr. Hudson agreed.

“That was one idea. The property is asymmetrical in terms of its shape,” he said. “To use the piece that is furthest from Route 24, that was one idea that was floated.”

The town currently mows the parcel, Mr. Niblett said. The revised game plan now would be to mow the designated recreation area and allow the rest to grow, in theory creating a physical barrier with taller grass, deterring any uses close to the highway.

“That would maybe be a natural barrier,” Mr. Niblett said.

Initially, several years ago, the town explored more elaborate plans for the parcel, which was donated to the town by Lennar, developer of the nearby Plantation Lakes community.

An outdoor amphitheater, walking/biking trails, a splashpad/water feature, large and small dog parks, a garden and picnic/passive recreation areas were the favorite amenities the town received in a survey that drew about 300 responses.

Ultimately, that “gateway” initiative proved to be too costly.

“We did go and get an estimate for it,” said Councilman Kells. “And it was significant to go and get what we had hoped to go and do, according to the survey.”

Mr. Hudson added that the estimated cost “was a huge price tag.”

Instead, the town opted for a public dog park off Wilson Highway within walking distance of the Millsboro Town Center. The dog park opened this spring.

Councilman Kells, a resident of Plantation Lakes, said he drove the Del. 24 property recently. He said it is “rough” and could use grading work.

“Do we need to go back there and do something to the property before we let kids come over there and start playing?” said Town Councilman Ron O’Neal. “Even though they are under their own liability, I would hate to see someone go over there and break an ankle or step in a hole.”

Mr. Hudson replied: “It would kind of be an at-your-risk situation, if people used it for pickup games … until we could do something more permanent.”

He said the town is fairly limited to the extent of grading work it could do, and any extensive sitework would be something for budget discussion.

“Certainly, it is public property. I don’t necessarily have any objection as long as public safety is factored in and as long as we don’t innocently step on the toes of any state agencies relative to approvals and things of that nature,” said Mr. Hudson. “I think the plan is to lie low for now and maybe revisit as the Plantation Lakes continues to unfold.”

Council agreed the best recommended public use of the park area would be from dawn to dusk.

The town plans to informally spread the new recreational use by word-of-mouth, Councilman Kells said.

“We’re going to be spreading the word,” he said.