Kent officials see Frederica, Little Heaven as areas for job growth

DOVER — The consensus on Frederica and Little Heaven’s future seems to be: change is coming.

The areas have received increased attention since the construction of the DE Turf sports complex and completion of DelDOT’s extensive overpass project along the U.S. 1 corridor.

Kent County’s staff, politicians and business advocates believe that because of increased access to “infrastructure,” development in the area is inevitable. During the county’s recently completed comprehensive planning process, they saw the need to put Little Heaven and a southern portion of Frederica aside with the intent of “master planning” them.

Kent County staff gave a presentation to Levy Court on June 18 on the drafting work completed in recent months. Working alongside state agencies, utilities, business interests, community groups and, perhaps most importantly, local residents, the county has attempted to bring together all the stakeholders to agree on the area’s destiny.

Though their master plan is still a draft, and even if it’s passed in the future doesn’t mandate any changes, organizers say that it will provide a blueprint for development that was pre-agreed upon by local land owners and lays out zoning appropriately.

Kent County administrator Michael Petit de Mange believes that both areas can develop into large employment centers.

“The reason these areas have been designated for employment center development is to bring quality jobs to central Delaware — not just retail and service type jobs — but corporate and high quality, high-paying jobs,” he said during the presentation. “And we’ll be marketing these areas for those types of uses. We’re very interested in sustainable design and energy efficiency uses on these properties so that they’re good stewards of the resources we do have.”

Kent Economic Partnership president Gregory Moore said a well laid plan for the area is a precondition for proper development.

“Why this is important is that site selectors and big businesses want to know that there are large areas of land that are ready for development,” he said during the presentation. “They want to know the areas has been planned, they’ve been zoned and streamlined, processed and utilities are available. That’s why we think this planning is essential and important to utilize the infrastructure the state has delivered to us on Route 1 and to prepare the land for big businesses.”

The draft laid out visions for each area. For Little Heaven, the vision reads:

“The Little Heaven planning area is the premier business park employment center in central Delaware that is uniquely situated to accommodate professional campus form development and associated support businesses and services with prominent visibility and accessibility along DE Route 1, and supported by outstanding transportation resources and on-site utility infrastructure.”

For south Frederica, the draft’s vision reads:

“The South Frederica planning area is a vibrant employment hub and sports tourism destination encompassing the quaint and charming town of Frederica, Delaware with excellent accessibility and transportation network serving an abundance of businesses, support services, professional offices, dining experiences, and recreational opportunities for the benefit of visitors and residents.”

Some local residents attending the presentation were not as enthusiastic. A farmer noted that planning the area in such a way would encourage uses that pushed out agriculture and a Frederica resident said she’d prefer more parkland and sidewalks. Commissioners encouraged residents to get involved in the process and said that by planning the area in advance, the county could avoid piecemeal rezoning requests that could leave the area a disorganized hodgepodge of development.

Though he was involved in public workshops held last October on the topic, local resident Boyd White, who’s been living in the Little Heaven and Magnolia area since 1968, says he hopes the county does more the get nearby residents involved.

“At this point I doubt residents really know all the details or some potential unintended consequences in these large areas, especially Little Heaven, which covers over 700 acres — it’s like building a new town,” he said. “About 10 years ago a developer submitted an application to the county which was approved to build nearly 200,000-square-foot shopping center and over 200 homes in the Little Heaven area. The developer’s plans were expunged after 5 years, likely due to no market or no interest. So I wonder if this could be the same scenario now.”

While noting that the committee formed to tackle the master planning is a “great group of people,” he hopes that the potential for development is managed judiciously.

“My personal hopes will be for the committee to stay within the growth zone, protect the farmland — farming is the number one industry in Kent County and these projects will push the farmers out of the area,” said Mr. White. “While I know development will happen at some point, I think these projects are too big and in the wrong place, especially Little Heaven. They are too far away from municipalities. Some on the committee will say if the employment centers are not built then houses will be built. I say if these centers are built even more houses will be built in the surrounding areas. Residents need to pay closer attention to what may happen to their community and how it will affect their quality of life. They must speak up before it’s too late.”

For information and undates on the master planning process, visit co.kent.de.us/ or call (302) 744-2471.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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