Selbyville approves natural gas, discusses residential zoning

Natural gas is officially coming to Selbyville. After months of discussion, the Selbyville Town Council this week unanimously approved the Chesapeake Utilities franchise agreement, with a final caveat that had been sent to the company a week earlier.

The issue of natural gas was raised in the fall of 2011 and is expected to end with a final discussion regarding the permit process, in which Selbyville would receive more than the standard $250 per permit, in the event of extensive submitted plans.

“I think all issues were settled to our mutual satisfaction,” said Bob Dickerson, town administrator. “Getting natural gas in our town is a good thing.”

“I think over all it’s a good agreement for the Town,” Councilmember Jay Murray said. “We get some decent revenues out of it, and potential for expansion. … There’s general interest up and down the corridor. Once the franchise agreement’s in place, they can begin planning the next connections.”

Natural gas is considered to be a cleaner, more efficient and ultimately, less expensive, fuel source. Chesapeake Utilities eyed Selbyville for the industrial customer of Mountaire poultry plant and a route southward to Berlin, Md., where they hope to continue the gas line.

Town council members have asked on multiple occasions about the company’s intent to offer natural gas access beyond those industrial and commercial users. They said Chesapeake Utilities finally agreed to include language regarding possible expansion.

Chesapeake representatives had long hesitated to guarantee natural gas to other businesses and residents because the company is regulated by the state Public Service Commission. Natural gas is considered an alternative utility, so customers must be secured before the supply pipe is built. There must be enough customers to justify building the pipeline leading toward Route 17 or 54. The company will do economic tests before expanding the gas line to other customers.

However, Dorrie Moore of Chesapeake Utilities has begun doing surveys in town. She said the Victoria Forest community gave a quick, positive response, and the schools in the town have expressed an interest. At an earlier meeting, she invited residents to contact her at work to discuss natural gas in their neighborhoods.

But the residents do now have a foot in the door to get natural gas.

“[Chesapeake Utilities] had a good response,” Mayor Clifton Murray said. “They gotta be able to pay for it, or they can’t do it.”

“I’ve got to believe, as demand warrants it, they’ll supply it,” said Jay Murray.

More residential zoning options

The council was introduced on Monday to a new concept for residential planned communities (RPCs). Coleman Bunting of Bunting Construction and designer Mike Wigley presented an idea that they said would give flexibility to housing developers.

The town primarily builds RPCs in the R-4 Residential zone now, said Jay Murray. Lots must be 100 by 120 feet deep, equaling 12,000 square feet. That is calculated to allow 2.2 units per acre.

Neighborhoods may be built in a grid pattern.

Wigley’s maps demonstrated several “overlay” options, or variations of how a piece of land may be divided into lots.

He took sample of 20-acres and included several common hindrances, such as the presence of 8 percent wetlands and 7 percent storm-water management among the total acreage. By adjusting the size and shape of lots, he said, it allows for more “open space,” such as parkland or walking trails. With smaller lots, varying dimensions and a mixture of single-family homes and townhouses, Wigley showed how the Town could have the same population density in these developments and more open space.

In Selbyville’s current grid design, houses butt up against other properties. Instead, if a new overlay was allowed, builders would have the option of flexible curved roadways and creativity, and more houses would not directly face their neighbors, said Wigley.

Plus, it could decrease the amount of roads, pavement and utility pipes that need to be installed for new housing developments. Meanwhile, residents would have less yardwork.

“Many more potential buyers now are looking for smaller lots so they have less yard to maintain,” Wigley said. “They’d much rather have a smaller yard and more open space that they could share with their neighbors in a complex like this.”

“I think the real key to this thing is flexibility,” said Bunting. “The problem that I see as a developer is these big lots. … Not everybody wants to go around and buy a $15,000 John Deere tractor.”

Wigley said that, for example, the smaller, yet winding layout of lots in the The Refuge at Dirickson Creek near Fenwick Island “feels better” than the larger, grid layout of Sandy Branch in Selbyville. Plus, the line of vision is more broken-up, versus a straight line of houses. This can be especially important as builders design around natural wetlands, ditches and streams.

Bunting suggested a minimum lot size of 75 by 135 feet, for a proposed lot size of 10,000 square feet, but he said he wasn’t “hung up” on dimensions.

“The point I want make is lot size doesn’t need to be the governing criteria. The density’s controlling it, and then let the thing flow. Let the planner have the flexibility to create a better project,” said Coleman Bunting. “In the end, it’s less maintenance, less runoff, less stormwater … all that kind of thing that usually comes by clustering.”

“We want to try to get quality, good-looking developments out of this thing,” said Murray. “You do have to have flexibility in a large project. The market’s ever-changing.”

Wigley had designed similar alternatives for Selbyville’s consideration in the mid-2000’s, but the council did not approve them. However, old draft resolutions may still be available for a starting point for any new zoning ordinances.

A Planning & Zoning Commission meeting will be scheduled soon to further discuss an R-4 RPC overlay ordinance.

In other Selbyville news:

• Old Timer’s Day is scheduled for Saturday, June 16. In addition to the regular festival, there will be a community-wide yard sale in an empty lot near Town Hall. People must pre-register by Friday, June 8, for space at the yard sale, for the car and truck show, or as food and craft vendors.

• Resident Mary Brown asked for a water filtration update at Shady Grove Apartments 2.

“At first, it was just a little normal sulfur smell” in Building 3, she said. “And then it just progressively got worse and worse, and it was dark gray coming out of the faucets.”

“We said we don’t have a problem with the other two buildings,” said Dickerson of the Town’s response. “It’s not our source-water. It’s something in the building.”

An indoor water sample only had 7 percent of the standard amount of chlorine, compared to a nearby water sample. That means something in the building is removing the chlorine that is supposed to disinfect tap water.

“We gave them a proposal a year ago that we would put in a chlorine-injector-type thing and pay for the cost and installation and pay for, I think, three months, to see if that did the job,” said Dickerson. “They wrote us back and said they didn’t want to do that… The management said they would not take it over.”

Then the Town didn’t want to pump too much chlorine into the system because of the recent scare about total trihalomethanes (TTHM), when large amounts of the chlorine disinfection byproduct briefly appeared in the treated water.

“We’ll take a look at it” again, said Town Engineer Erik Retzlaff. “We did look and had a solution we thought was going to work. We just couldn’t come to terms with who was going to pay for it.”

• Regarding the new Town wells, the council voted unanimously to award the water-main pipe construction project to Teal Construction, which offered the lowest bid, at $346,000, which was 15 percent less than anticipated. They will use PVC pipe, which Retzlaff said is already installed throughout town, with no significant problems.

Teal is expected to begin construction, laying pipe at Cemetery Road, around July 1.

After the last few permits are obtained, Retzlaff will accept bids for construction of the wells in the next few weeks. He said he staggered the construction projects to allow companies better access to the site.

• For the month of April, Selbyville police had 203 calls for service, issued 145 tickets, made 25 arrests and collected $2,608.75 in fines.

Police Chief Scott Collins said the town had a good Memorial Day weekend with only one automobile accident. He reminded residents that schools close Friday, June 8, for summer vacation, so children will be out and about. Also, the speed trailer will be moved around town for speed for speed limit enforcement.

• Retzlaff reported that much of the smell and the wastewater scum, both attributed to Mountaire, are improving.

• The Town has been unable to successfully contact the owner or mortgage company of 4 2nd Street after a fire there on Feb. 15. Mayor Clifton Murray said he will assemble a hazard team to inspect the property and determine a course of action.

• The council voted unanimously to retrofit five parts at the water plant that are underwater and not working, at the cost of a little over $1,000.

• Many local businesses have ordered backflow preventers at the cost of $5. Dickerson said the Hydro Design company did a great job meeting with businesses regarding backflow prevention.

• Councilmember Richard Duncan Sr. thanked Town employee Dave Brickman for taking the 40-hour American Society Sanitation Engineer course, making him one of 40 certified backflow testers in Delaware.

The next Selbyville Town Council meeting will be Monday, July 2, at 7 p.m.