Sussex County joins effort to protect Jones Farm near Lewes

An aerial view of the Jones Farm near Lewes. (Submitted photo)

LEWES — Three local government agencies and an agribusiness firm are partnering to preserve one of eastern Sussex County’s most pristine properties.

Sussex County will join with the city of Lewes and the Lewes Board of Public Works to acquire the historic Jones Farm, at the corner of Kings Highway and Clay Road, just outside city limits, officials for the three governing bodies announced last week.

All three will jointly own the 37.5-acre parcel, currently a mix of agricultural and forested lands, and preserve the property in perpetuity. The sale price is approximately $5.5 million.

Details of how the to-be-acquired parcel will be utilized remain to be worked out, though the city’s Board of Public Works — the utilities arm of city government — plans to erect a water tower in the far northwest corner of the property. The parcel falls within Lewes’ wellhead protection area, a zone established to safeguard the local drinking water supply.

Beyond that, county officials noted that the parcel could include some form of passive recreation for future public use.

The purchase is a first-of-its kind agreement for the county and city bodies — the city and Board of Public Works are separate governing entities chartered by the Delaware General Assembly. It also represents the first land acquisition by the county using funds collected through a 2006 ordinance that allows developers to increase project densities in targeted growth areas of the county in exchange for added fees that are then earmarked for open-space preservation.

Sussex County and the Lewes Board of Public Works will contribute $2 million each to the purchase, with the city of Lewes offering another $1.5 million.

Meanwhile, the property’s owner, J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co., is cutting more than $1.5 million off the original selling price, with the property appraised at $7.1 million, representing a more-than-22% savings to taxpayers and utility customers.

“This type of purchase is the model we should be looking for, partnerships where everyone participates — the county, the towns, property owners and developers,” said Sussex County District 3 Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton III, whose district includes the parcel and who was one of the principal forces in facilitating the joint purchase. “We must work together as a community, collaboratively, if we want to preserve open space for the community to enjoy now and for generations to come.”

“The Lewes Board of Public Works is pleased to be able to collaborate with Sussex County and the city of Lewes on the purchase of this important property,” said the board’s chairman, D. Preston Lee. “Its preservation will protect a meaningful portion of the precious groundwater recharge area adjacent to BPW’s wellfield that supplies high-quality water to the citizens of Lewes and surrounding area. We sincerely appreciate the extensive efforts by Councilman Burton coordinating with the landowner, the city of Lewes, the Sussex County Council and the BPW to put this historic agreement together.”

Lewes Mayor Ted Becker agreed. “The collaborative efforts of Sussex County, the city of Lewes and the Board of Public Works that have culminated in the acquisition of the Jones Farm represents a major step forward in the preservation of open space and the protection of the city’s water supply,” he said. “The strategic location of this property along the Historic Lewes Scenic Byway will serve as perpetual recognition of the agricultural heritage of the lands surrounding Lewes. The city is proud to be a partner in this significant effort to preserve open space.”

Paul G. Townsend, president of J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co., said the company has a history of bargain sales with the state and county and is proud to continue this tradition with the sale of this highly desirable piece of property. “We commend the three bodies for their efforts to reach this agreement,” Mr. Townsend said.

So far, the county, the Board of Public Works, the city and the property owner have signed a letter of intent, with a sales agreement to be drafted in the next few weeks. Settlement on the property is expected to close this fall.