Kent County to rule on controversial rezoning near DE Turf

FREDERICA — Levy Court commissioners will rule on the previously tabled decision to rezone a 25-acre property near DE Turf at their meeting next Tuesday.

Although about a dozen community members and leaders, including Frederica Mayor William Glanden and ex-county commissioner Bradley Eaby turned out to offer their support for the rezoning at the June 27 county meeting, resistance to the proposal was strong. Almost ten residents who have homes directly adjacent to the property in question were concerned about increased traffic and changing the character of what has traditionally been a rural area.

Robert and Catherine Murphy, who own the property about a mile south of DE Turf Sports Complex outside Frederica, are seeking a rezone and amendment to the Kent County Comprehensive plan. The change would alter the zoning from agricultural conservation/low density residential to general business/highway commercial. The property is southeast of the Rt. 1 intersection with Milford Neck Road and has frontage on both Rt. 1 and, although narrowly, on Pritchett Road at its rear.

The Regional Planning Commission passed the proposal on to Levy Court with a recommendation to approve it by a 4-3 vote at their June meeting. Commission members said their reasons for recommending approval included  the creation of economic development for the county, enhancements for the recently established Sports Complex and accommodations for people visiting the county.

The county’s Department of Planning Services’ staff, on the other hand, recommended  denial of the proposal. In its report, staff noted that the subject site is located outside of the county’s growth zone, between Frederica and the City of Milford. While they too recognized the opportunity for economic development near the DE Turf complex, they pointed over 36 acres of vacant commercial zoning located inside of the growth zone along Route 1 near the subject site, that could serve as an alternative development area. Site configuration was a problem for staff too.

“Due to the subject site’s location between Route 1 and Milford Neck Road and configuration of the subject parcels along with environmental impacts restricting egress from the site, it does not appear development of the site for commercial purposes is feasible,” the report read.

The owners of a 25-acre about a mile south of DE Turf Sports Complex outside Frederica, are seeking a rezone and amendment to the Kent County Comprehensive plan. The change would alter the zoning from agricultural conservation/low density residential to general business/highway commercial. The property, as shown on the above zoning map, is southeast of the Rt. 1 intersection with Milford Neck Road and has frontage on both Rt. 1 and, although narrowly, on Pritchett Road at its rear. The proposal will be ruled on after a public hearing on July 18. (Submitted map)

The Murphys, represented in part by Gregg Moore from Becker Morgan Group, note the primary reason for seeking the rezone is an opportunity for development. They believe their proximity to the newly popular DE Turf makes the piece of property and ideal location for amenities, such as restaurants and hotels, and can spur economic growth in the area.

“Kent County is in a transition phase, especially this part of the county,” said Mr. Murphy during the June 27 hearing. “The adage, ‘build it and they will come’ — well, they’ve come. This part of the county isn’t just a pass-through place any more, it’s a destination spot.”

A particularly enthusiastic dissenter, Alex Schmidt, spoke out against the proposal at the same hearing. He owns a home behind the property and has a backyard that faces it. Before beginning his testimony, Mr. Schmidt pointed out that Mr. Murphy has already listed his property for sale for $7.5 million dollars and marked the zoning commercial as if the meeting with the county were a “foregone conclusion.”

As of Wednesday, the property at 3338 & 3320 Bay Road in Milford was indeed still actively listed for that price with ERA Harrington Realty, Inc.

The property details read:

“Development Potential with Highway access to Rt. 1. Close proximity to the Kent County Regional Sports Complex. Many development possibilities: Ex: Shopping Centers, Outpads, Hotel, Movie Theater, Etc. Soon to be the fastest growing area in Kent county with the opening of the Sports Complex (The Turf) All utilities available. Owners live on the property in a farmhouse.”

Mr. Schmidt said that he and many of the other nearby residents bought their homes with the expectation that the county would be sticking to its own comprehensive plan and not changing it on a whim.

“This is completely out of character with the way the area is now,” he said during the hearing. “The folks there don’t want to live right next to a Wawa and hotels. There are many other properties close to the turf field that have better access and less impact on residents — those should be considered first.”

Tension among commissioners

The upcoming decision has contention floating around it for nearby residents and county commissioners alike. Commissioners P. Brooks Banta and Allan Angel exchanged a few tense words that seemed to allude to the pending decision at last Tuesday’s meeting.

“I had an opportunity to really think about when I started with levy court some 20 years ago, and today, as well as then, we’ve all taken an oath to protect the rich historical heritage of Delaware, specifically Kent County,” said Mr. Banta. “So my concern is that each of us each of us have a vested responsibility of protecting the lives and wellbeings of our residents. We may be being remiss in not determining the best future of our county for the next 5, 10, 15 or 20 years.”

Mr. Banta feels that commissioners should weigh their decisions carefully as they potentially carry “more power than the Governor” because they dictate land use in the county.

“For example, let’s just say you are doing a general business rezoning — there is nothing to contain that to one or two items — the BG zoning has almost two pages of items that can be put there with no conditions,” he said. “It’s important that we look closely at the future of our county. The land that we have is what we have; we can’t get any more. If we desecrate it or do something inappropriate, I think we’ll be doing our county and ourselves a great disservice.”

Feeling the need to respond to the implication, Mr. Angel said that it’s important for the county to make room for economic growth in their plans.

“Land is land, however, when we made a decision to have economic development come to our county, we made promises that there would be an economic boom,” he said. “We promised that there would be businesses coming in that aided Kent County and the state, so we can’t go back on our word.”

Members of the public have an opportunity to comment on the proposed rezoning at the next Levy Court meeting on July 18 at 7 p.m. in the Levy Court chambers, Room 203 of the Kent County Administrative Complex, 555 Bay Road in Dover. More information on the proposal can be found at co.kent.de.us/boards-committees/regional-planning-commission.aspx.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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