Little Heaven residents discuss ‘master plan’ at workshop

DOVER — A Kent County-held workshop on Wednesday night laid out the recent effort to “master plan” the Little Heaven area around the recently completed overpass.

Several dozen Little Heaven residents, politicians, bureaucrats and economic development advocates turned out to discuss the planning process that was initiated by the completion of the 2018 Kent County Comprehensive plan finished last year. A work group comprised of community members, organizations, municipal and state agencies and county staff have been at work since then creating a proposed blueprint for how the area could be developed. Proponents of the master planning process say this will provide guidance ahead of any rezoning requests that may be imminent for the area. County staff notes that a master plan makes planning infrastructure and utilities more intuitive and allows existing residents to weigh in on what they may or may not want popping up in their backyards.

The majority of residents who spoke at the workshop, expressed concern about the stress future economic development may place on existing services. More traffic, increased demand on emergency services and changing the rural character of the area were all mentioned.

However, fourth district Levy Court commissioner Eric Buckson said to attendees that concerns about future development are what justifies the need for a master plan. Referencing large-scale residential growth in Kent County in the early 2000s, Mr. Buckson said the county had made the mistake in the past of allowing piecemeal zoning changes without a concise “vision.”

“If you lived here in the early 2000s you saw how it was like the wild wild west,” Mr. Buckson said to residents. “The market had exploded and Magnolia was ground zero, but there was no vision or plan. So, we had to legislate from behind. I got elected in 2007 and started to try to make needed changes. What I quickly learned was that those changes weren’t going to be effective for anything that was impacting folks right then, but for long term we would figure it out. But, by then, the market cooled. For some, the damage was done. I didn’t want to see that happen again.”

Kent County administrator Michael Petit de Mange pointed out that the working group has been closely following a state-established master planning process since October.

“This is a vision, it’s not what it is today,” he said. “We believe because of some of the physical changes that have been made to the highway system, this area (Little Heaven) is destined to change. So, the question is, do we just want to let it happen randomly without any guidance or do we want to have a framework within which it would happen. That’s what this master planning process is about, establishing that framework.”

Focused on the potential job growth prospects, Kent Economic Partnership chairman Gregory Moore noted that the county has the chance to lay out a plan that would allow “good, viable jobs” in the county rather than “just growing new houses.” But, Mr. Moore added that the development will still depend on local land owners, despite the master plan.

“The people who are in control here are the landowners,” he said. “The county is not going to be buying the property, they won’t be forcing rezoning — none of that. It’ll be the landowners that decide whether or not their properties are, in fact, rezoned. If they want to participate, you may see change. If they want to continue to farm, you will see no change. It will be up to them.”

What’s planned

Though the master planning process is still underway, the materials passed out to residents on Wednesday night included about 700 acres in and around Little Heaven broken into six proposed zoning categories.

•95 acres of neighborhood commercial (grocery stores, hardware stores, restaurants, etc.)

•185 acres of light industrial (limited manufacturing, equipment rental, warehousing, etc.)

•45 acres of mixed use (residential, entertainment, institutional, etc.)

•130 acres of professional campus (medical, dental, legal, etc.)

•125 acres of corporate campus (office complexes, financial centers, research parks, etc.)

•120 acres of agri-business (hydroponics, wineries, cold storage, etc.)

“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,” Mr. Petit de Mange has said. “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.”

Currently, there is no exhaustive list of the types of businesses that can occupy these proposed zones in county code, and the ordinances would need to be written and approved by Levy Court.

What’s next

Taking public feedback into account and continuing to coordinate with state agencies, the master planning work group plans to meet several more times to hammer out details and submit a plan draft to the state’s PLUS (Preliminary Land Use Service).

From there, Levy Court commissioners will consider the plan for approval and addition to the full 2018 comprehensive plan.

Mr. Petit de Mange expects this process to be complete before the end of the year.

DelDOT, who’s been participating in the master planning noted it’s intention to hold a workshop in November to specifically address residents’ concerns about how traffic patterns may be affected by proposed development.

The same master planning process is ongoing for south of Frederica — a similar workshop is being held concerning that area next Monday starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Kent County complex on 555 South Bay Road in Dover.

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