Kent County’s new comprehensive plan puts a focus on ‘economic development centers’

DOVER — After 18 months of work, Kent County’s Planning Department issued its draft of the county’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan earlier this week.

The existing comp plan is from 2007.

The new 157-page draft includes detailed plans and projects related to demographics, economic development, housing, community facilities,
conservation, historic preservation, land use, transportation, community design, intergovernmental coordination and implementation strategies.

Urging the public to examine the draft, county planning director Sarah Keifer said, in a way, the plan is the “story of Kent County’s residents.”

“It’s often described as the planning department’s comp plan, but it’s not, it’s the county’s plan,” she said. “For it to be useful, it needs to reflect the vision, hopes and interests of the people who live and work here. The more input we get, the more useful the document is.”

Already having pulled large amounts of feedback and surveys during the drafting process, Ms. Keifer said residents have a unique opportunity over the coming weeks to influence the plan by submitting their comments.

“A comp plan is used to inform all kinds of decisions the county makes — the biggest one that springs to most peoples’ minds are land use decisions,” she said. “The comp plan is consulted every time we have a new land use application. It’s a lot easier to have influence now and inform future decisions rather than fighting something on the back end.”

County residents biggest priority so far? Jobs, says Ms. Keifer.

“We knew going in that economic development was going to be a concern among residents, but we didn’t expect the intensity of that concern,” she added.
“Being the story of a community, each comp plan tends to have a theme of sorts. Ten years ago, it was that infrastructure needed to catch up with development because we’d gone through a building boom — but 10 years later, it’s that we need to focus efforts on job creation. Our demographics show that we’re losing the younger populations to other areas with more job prospects.”

Kent County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange noted that the new plan eyeballs several areas in the county with the space and proximity to eventually become “economic development centers.”

“With the DelDOT improvements to Route 1 that we’re seeing near Little Heaven and down through Frederica which will continue through Milford with new overpasses, those future interchanges become important potential areas for employment center development,” he said.

Mr. Petit de Mange said he feels that south of Frederica specifically may be on the cusp of surging commercial activity.

“I would strongly urge the county to take a good look at the area south and west of Frederica as an area for future growth,” he said. “It’s close to the south Frederica interchange and the completion of the roadways and other improvements combined with the advent of the DE Turf Sports Complex and the new traffic patterns forming — it’s going to be an area of fairly intense development pressure moving forward. There’s a need for a special area plan that would take a focused look at how the area may develop in a more advantageous way.”

For the land-use portion of the comp plan, it sticks to a strategy that Mr. Petit de Mange says has served the county well in the past: the use of a “growth zone” that runs the length of the county.

A growth zone is a planning tool for designing communities, commercial activity and designating areas to be supported by infrastructure. The county’s current growth zone encompasses part of Smyrna and snakes down Del. 1 and U.S. 13 where it encompasses Cheswold, Dover, Magnolia, Camden, Wyoming, Viola, Felton, Frederica, Milford and Harrington. The existing zone hasn’t seen many alterations in the past decade.

“We’ve had a defined growth zone now for approaching 20 years and over time that approach has been beneficial in directing the more substantial growth into areas where existing or planned infrastructure is,” said Mr. Petit de Mange. “It’s also helped to protect our agricultural resources. This new plan continues that and focuses growth around our towns and cities.”

The comp plan draft is now available for review and can be accessed through Facebook, Twitter or the county’s website. Comments can be made through the same channels.

• Facebook: www.facebook.com/KCLCPlanning/

• Twitter: KentCountyPlanning@KCplanning

• Kent County website: co.kent.de.us

Planning staff may be contacted directly by emailing Planning@co.kent.de.us or by calling 302-7442471.

The county is also expected to hold a series of public meetings in late February to solicit additional feedback.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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