Promoting Dover: Hugg says city might not be booming, but it’s on the rise

Construction continues at the Blue Hen Apartments complex. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — There are signs of business life that can be seen all around Dover, from the gleaming Chesapeake Utilities campus being built on the city’s southeastern side to the Capital Station shopping and restaurant complex that’s taking shape near the heart of downtown and everywhere else in between.

Bulldozers, cranes and construction workers that are out in force have Dover City Planner Dave Hugg excited.

“I think we’re seeing significant things happening in the city of Dover and some of them we might want to take credit for and a lot of them I think the timing is just starting to become right,” Mr. Hugg said.

“People are starting to be interested in the city and they’re hearing good things about the city.

“As (City) Council President (Tim) Slavin has said on a number of occasions, we have a management team in the city now that is poised and able to work with people and give them information and that certainly includes the city manager, and the police chief and the public works director, all of the folks that I have to work with.”

Mr. Hugg took over as city planner 10 months ago and has overseen a transition period in the city’s Department of Planning, Inspections and Community Development.

The gleaming Chesapeake Utilities campus being built on the city’s southeastern side. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

During his annual report to Dover City Council about his department last week he noted that of the department’s five divisions, four had at least one personnel change over the past year.

“In the wake of these changes, we expect the Planning, Inspections and Community Development Department to be more focused on its core goals of protecting the public health, safety, and welfare and ensuring new development in the city that is of exceptional quality,” said Mr. Hugg. “We expect the ‘fresh blood’ in our department to pursue these goals with vigor.”

Thoughout the personnel changes that have occurred, the department has remained busy.

Mr. Hugg made it a focus to change what was once known mockingly as “Dover’s Department of No,” to “Dover’s Department of Yes.”

In fact, there were 1,119 construction permits issued in the city in 2017, up from 1,039 in 2013.

Phase 2 of the Blue Hen Apartments complex. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Dover’s Planning Commission reviewed 39 applications last year, including one administrative site plan requiring waiver approval.

“Increasingly we’re involved in marketing, promotion and economic development activities for the city, which includes a lot of outreach and hand holding and just welcoming people to the community and helping them find their way,” he said.

“Capital Station is a good example of a project that has moved its way through the process in a manner that I think both the development community and us are happy with and people have come together and resolved problems when they become serious.”

Mr. Hugg credits a change in attitude around the offices inside of City Hall to have made a huge difference.

“My staff is committed to being helpful and providing service,” he said. “We take seriously (our goal) of being helpful, friendly, courteous, accessible, professional, responsible and collaborative. It kind of sounds like the Boys Scouts. But the point is, that’s the way we’re doing business.

“If we don’t do business that way I want to be the first one to hear about it because that’s the vision that they hear from me every time we have a staff meeting and every time we tackle a project.”

Those projects were numerous in 2017.

Open for business

Mr. Hugg said new sites for business, housing and health care are popping up all the time. He pointed to the new Chesapeake Utilities campus and the Islamic Society of Central Delaware building off South Little Creek Road.

Among some of the other highlights in commercial development in Dover last year was a building permit issued for the Dover Christian Church off Forrest Avenue, building renovations for the Wendy’s restaurant on South DuPont Highway and a building permit for a salt barn in the city’s public works yard in Schutte Park.

In addition, a new multi-tenant office building in the Creekstone development on South Governors received a certificate of occupancy in June for its first tenants and permits were issued to begin construction of the Enterprise Office Building at 285 Beiser Boulevard in July that is expected to hold tenants in the medical services field.

To add to Dover’s lunch and dinner options, a Panera Bread restaurant opened last September at 545 N. DuPont Highway and a Longhorn Steakhouse restaurant began construction in November at 505 N. DuPont Highway.

Mr. Hugg pointed to the Capital Commons complex near Towne Point as a success story. The site of the old Kmart shopping center is now home to Burlington, Big Lots, Panera Bread and soon-to-open Longhorn Steakhouse.

“It was an interesting year in terms of what’s going on in the commercial and business side,” Mr. Hugg said, of 2017. “The old Kmart site … If anyone had said five years ago that it was going to be hustling and bustling with two restaurants and two big stores we’d probably have all said, ‘You’re crazy.’

“Eden Hill, and the growth of the health care industry, continues to grow unabated. We’re always seeing new office proposals and new medical treatment proposals.

“The Capital Station project looks like it’s going to be a success and we’re going to start to see things coming up out of the ground fairly soon.”

Work is also taking place this year on the Post Acute Medical Rehabilitation Hospital of Dover that’s expected to open this fall, a shopping center on Bay Road and a new residence hall at Delaware State University.

Housing activity positive

There have also been positive signs of life when it comes to residential activity over the past year. Many existing subdivisions saw continued house construction resulting in more than 100 new residential units in 2017.

The developments include mixes of one family detached dwellings, duplexes and townhouses.

Construction activity includes homes in Nottingham Meadows, Clearview Meadows Senators Lake, Seskinore, Village of Westover Phase VI, Village of Cannon Mill and Chestnut Grove Farms.

Construction also continued last year at several multi-family residential projects, including Leander Lakes Apartments; renovations to the apartment buildings at the Preserve at Whatcoat (previously known as Whatcoat Village); continued work at the Tall Pines project and buildings in Phase 2 at the Blue Hen Apartments complex.

Another major multi-family project currently underway involves the demolition of 14 buildings and reconstruction of the residential units at Liberty Court Apartments at 1289 Walker Road.

Citywide there were certificates of occupancy issued to more than 10 new apartment buildings last year. Construction of the fourth and final building was completed at The Grande senior apartment complex in November.

Finding a niche for downtown

While many of the commercial and residential projects throughout the city appear to be trending on the positive side, there are a couple of things that still bother Mr. Hugg. That includes refining exactly what downtown Dover wants to be.

“I think that we need to have a more refined vision for the downtown in the sense that we still haven’t quite identified what it is we want the downtown to be,” he said. “We’re working on that with the Downtown Dover Partnership and we’re working on that through the strategic plan.”

Residential and business development has been bolstered in central Dover since the city was named a Downtown Development District (DDD) by the state in January 2015.

The DDD program provides incentives to help attract new businesses and homeowners to the downtown area and the city has programs including building and impact fee waivers for new business and housing and business license fee waivers for businesses locating in the downtown area.

Throughout 2017, the city authorized $12,945 in permit fee waivers for 24 properties for the purpose of new housing or business, including 11 new homes which have been built within the DDD and six new duplex homes that were completed at the corner of Kirkwood and Reed Streets.

The other new homes include 245 N. West Street, 45 S. Queen Street, 231 N. Queen Street, 24 N. New Street and 21 N. New Street.

The city also waived business license fees in the amount of $1,254.50 in the aim of incentivizing business growth in the DDD.

Time for difficult decisions

Mr. Hugg said this might be the perfect time for the city to make some difficult decisions since he and his staff are tasked with updating Dover’s Comprehensive Plan this year.

“There’s some major decisions facing the city in terms of investment in city facilities, investment in parking and investment in infrastructure that need to come to head,” he said. “We have talked about them, we have worked on them and we have planned about them for some time.

“It’s time in some cases to bite the bullet and say, ‘This is what we want to do and this is where we want to do it and the reason we need to do it.’ We certainly did it with the library a number of years ago and it’s time, I think, to face some others.”

While there are certainly many challenges, Mr. Hugg said he sees positive things happening in Dover every day.

“The numbers tend to be impressive and they suggest to me that Dover’s economy is not booming, but it’s certainly pretty steady and getting better every single day and I think those numbers are reflecting that.

“Dover is a great place. It’s a really great community and it’s a community where our shared vision is to have a place where people want to live, raise and family, work, shop and recreate.”

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