Kent County Levy Court approves controversial rezoning near DE Turf

DOVER — After a lengthy debate Tuesday night, Kent County Levy Court commissioners voted 4-3 to conditionally approve a controversial rezoning near the DE Turf Sports Complex in Frederica.

The rezoning applicants, Robert and Catherine Murphy, sought to change their 25-acre property from agricultural conservation/low density residential to general business/highway commercial.

The property is about a mile south of DE Turf and has frontage on both Del. 1 and, although narrowly, on Milford Neck Road at its rear.

Originally, Kent County Planning Services recommended denial of the proposal to the Regional Planning Commission (RPC), noting that the subject site was outside the county’s “growth zone” and that commercial development of the property did not seem “feasible.”

Nevertheless, the RPC voted at their June 8 meeting to recommend approval — also by a 4-3 vote.

The Levy Court heard public testimony and weighed the proposal first at their June 27 meeting, but the matter was tabled until the Tuesday meeting primarily because neighbors of the site had turned out in force to claim that granting the business zoning would increase traffic, change the character of a traditionally rural area and create a commercial eyesore in their backyards — even though a dense swath of forest (not owned by the Murphys) does separate the neighbors from the site.

Although the property has frontage on Del. 1, it’s unknown whether accommodations can be made for a commercial entrance and exit there. Because of this, neighbors and commissioners expressed concern that an entrance would be made at the narrow “finger” of land at the back of the property that connects with Milford Neck Road.

Commissioners suggested that the applicant spend the time afforded by the tabling of the proposal in late-June coming up with an alternative entrance.

The Murphys, represented in part by Gregg Moore from Becker Morgan Group and Dover lawyer John Paradee, came to Tuesday’s meeting prepared to do that. By including a stipulation that the rear “finger” portion of the property be deed restricted and subdivided to keep its agricultural conservation zoning, they felt that reasonable assurance an entrance would never be built there was offered to the county and neighbors.

Ultimately, the majority of commissioners agreed.

Commissioners Terry Pepper, James Hosfelt, Eric Buckson and Allan Angel voted in favor of the zoning change. Commissioners Brooks Banta, Jody Sweeney and Glen Howell voted no, citing the need to wait for completion of the county’s comprehensive land use plan in 2018.

Although the application was approved, several substantial obstacles to developing the property remain.

By opting out of the potential entrance at the rear of the property, the Murphys will likely need to settle on a new commercially viable one if they hope to develop the property.

During the public hearing, it was mentioned that they were discussing a possible solution with the Meding family, who in addition to owning Meding’s Seafood on the opposite side of Del. 1, own the lot north of the Murphy’s property.

Mr. Moore pointed out that the Meding family was currently considering a memorandum of understanding that would lay the groundwork for an easement through their property and give the Murphys a commercially viable entrance and exit through their lot to Milford Neck Road.

They will also likely discuss what can be done in terms of entrance and exit onto Rt. 1 with DelDOT.

The other issue the Murphys will have to contend with is the property’s infrastructure needs. Before a vote was called, County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange noted to commissioners that because the subject site was currently set up in a sewer district that considered its flow that of a single family residence, developing the sewer infrastructure to a commercial level would likely require another application to the county.

“This property is currently outside of the growth zone, and an act of rezoning it doesn’t bring it into the growth zone,” he said. “I would perceive that to be a problem for developing it into anything more substantial that what it is today which is a single family residence.

“The code provides Levy Court with the right to create and expand or modify existing sanitary sewer districts within the growth zone. Extension of sewer districts outside the growth zone can only be for remediation of and removal of existing septic systems.

“So to develop the property, it’ll need to be considered to include it as part of the growth zone, and that’s not part of this current application.”

Many in attendance we’re pleased with the outcome. More than two dozen community members and leaders, including Frederica Mayor William Glanden and ex-county commissioners Bradley Eaby and Don Blakey turned out to offer their support for the rezoning.

About a dozen neighbors attended the meeting to voice their opposition. However, during the public hearing, several mentioned that subdividing and deed restricting the “finger” portion of the property was a satisfactory solution to their concerns.

As is the case with all contentious proposals though, not everyone left happy.

A neighbor who lives at the rear of the property, Alex Schmidt, who has spoken out repeatedly about the proposal at public hearings, said the business zoning that was granted is too permissive because it gives permission for over 100 different potential businesses types.

He’s also disappointed that the county won’t be sticking to its own comprehensive plan.

“We’re worried about unchecked growth in our area,” he said after the decision. “I think someone intent on building a business there will be able to pay for the sewers and the entrance roads needed, but now we have no idea what will be built there.”

At the close of the vote, Commissioner George “Jody” Sweeney urged residents to treat the public hearing as a reminder to get involved in the process of designing the upcoming 2018 comprehensive zoning plan.

“It’s important for the Levy Court to manage growth in the county to avoid any kind of overgrowth, and I think the 2018 comprehensive zoning plan is going to address that,” he said.

“You’re all affected by this, so please check our website, find out when those meetings are for that comprehensive plan and engage with what’s going on in the county. Don’t wait for a proposal like this to come up. You have an opportunity to get involved.”

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