County council defers on Ocean View-area apartments

After hearing objections to a zoning change request that would permit a three-building apartment complex to be built near Ocean View, the Sussex County Council on Dec. 10 unanimously voted to postpone their vote until next week.

They are scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17.

Councilman Douglas Hudson made the motion to defer the vote following a public hearing on the zoning change on Tuesday, Dec. 10, saying he needed time to review his notes after council members listened to area residents comment on the application for more than two hours.

No members of the public spoke in favor of the development, which was recommended for approval by the county’s Planning & Zoning Commission on Nov. 14. Members of that commission did recommend conditions be placed on approval, including restricting the number of apartments to 45 units and requiring the developer to adhere to all Delaware Department of Transportation requirements and see that street lights face downward.

The first to tell county council members why she disapproves of the development, proposed on 3.93 acres west of Muddy Neck Road and northwest of Parker House Road, was Diana Emlet, an outspoken opponent who lives in the area. She reminded county council members of the more than 1,100 letters of objection that were received. She suggested apartments be built in the business area of Ocean View so apartments and year-round houses are not too close together.

The property owner is asking that zoning on the property be changed from AR-1 to GR. AR-1 is an agricultural-residential zoning designation that allows two housing units per acre. GR is a general residential zoning designation allowing three units per acre.

“We have many AR-1 areas still to be developed. We do not have to be overcrowded like they have chosen to do,” Emlet said of Ocean City, Md., and New Jersey neighborhoods.

If the apartments are approved, she called for a fence around the perimeter of the property, so renters don’t use neighboring homeowners’ amenities or “play areas,” including nearby back yards.

Dave Muller of Millville, who did not sign a petition letter, questioned the logic of allowing six-month rentals.

“We’re going to end up with transient renters here,” he said, calling on council members to represent the constituents who elected them.

“We’re going to have more than one person in each apartment, so that will affect the traffic. … I don’t think it’s good for the area. I don’t think it fits the area,” he said.

Robert Harris, one of the principals in the development application, told council members that 12-month and 24-month leases are preferable, but six-month leases could be approved as exceptions. He said he wouldn’t object to longer leases being a condition of approval.

A stormwater management expert said the site has poor drainage and a water table close to the surface. Without proper planning, ditches can easily flood, she said. Harris said he had met with a representative of the Sussex Soil Conservation District and was told an impervious system would not be suitable. Impervious pavement acts like a screen in a sink drain and will overflow if clogged, he said.

A man identifying himself as a retired law-enforcement detective said he doesn’t feel the apartment complex fits the area. There is a complex being built off Route 20, he said, asking if “uncontrolled, irresponsible development” would cause Ocean View to become “another Ocean City.” He also asked how the added residences will impact the school system, possibly leading to overcrowding.

“Are we providing opportunity, or are we creating a problem for the future?” he asked.

An Ocean View man also objected to six-month leases and said the Delaware Department of Transportation didn’t complete a traffic study for the area, even though DelDOT recently lowered the speed limit on Muddy Neck Road. Apartments next to single-family homes lower the value of the homes, he argued. He suggested townhouses be built instead.

A woman who described herself as not an expert, but informed, said only seasonal jobs are available in Ocean View.

“That’s it. It’s seasonal. There is nothing here. Put it near the jobs,” she said.

Frank Zimba of Ocean View presented slides concerning traffic considerations and said he had learned that the last traffic count for Parker House Road was in 2014, and in 2017 for Muddy Neck Road. The report doesn’t take into consideration the vast difference between traffic density in winter and summer in Ocean View, he said.

A woman who lives adjacent to the parcel where apartments are proposed said having apartments there will detract from her quality of life and objected to the density, saying there is potential for “200 or more residents being crammed into this small space.”

“Listen to the people who voted for you,” she told council members.

Another speaker said there is no definite water management plan and asked if trees will be removed before such a plan is in place. He said residents have no idea what the building will look like, and like speakers before him, asked about the impact on schools and the potential for six-month leases. He asked if sub-leases will be permitted and where trash dumpsters will be located.

Another Ocean View resident said local schools already have portable classrooms due to overcrowding and said adding more children to the schools should be a consideration. (Portable classrooms are being used at Indian River High School, which serves the Ocean View area and is at roughly 85 percent overall capacity, while severe overcrowding exists at Sussex Central High School, which serves the Millsboro area but not Ocean View.)

Thomas Douglas said he agreed with most of the objections expressed and asked how adding five or six people in each of 45 apartments will affect crime. “That concerns me,” he said.

Another woman said site plans always look neat and organized, “but when you go to the property and walk around, it gives you a different perspective.”

“I wonder, and I hope, that each of you that are voting on this would go there … see the area as it is now and project what it will look like when there are 45 families, 90 people maybe, with all the cars turning left and right, and what would that look like,” she said.

Before public comments, the attorney representing the property owner explained that two applications had been consolidated. The first is to change zoning on the property to GR. A small portion of the property is already zoned GR, and the application seeks to change the entire property to that zoning, he said. He clarified that the request is for three buildings containing a total of 45 two- and three-bedroom apartment units, with 15 apartments in each building.

Speaking in favor of approval, he said added traffic from the apartments would be minimal and that neither the apartments, nor those who occupy them, would disrupt everyday life in Ocean View.

“This is an ideal project to provide another housing option” because ecological considerations don’t exist there, as they do in other areas, he said. The project fits neatly within the county’s comprehensive plan, which calls for a greater level of density, he added.

Hudson asked what the impervious surfaces will be and was told it is usually asphalt. Hudson asked if the apartments will be categorized as affordable housing, and the attorney said they are not being offered in a low-income program, although they will be affordable and suitable for entry-level workers looking for housing.

Hudson asked about the design of the buildings and was told they have not been designed, but the county’s height limits and other requirements will be adhered to.


By Susan Canfora
Staff Reporter