County Council approves Ocean View-area apartments but limits number to 16

The Sussex County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the zoning change requested by Gulfstream Development needed to build an apartment complex in Ocean View, but sliced the number of units allowed from the requested 45 to 16.

Gulfstream requested zoning be changed from AR-1, agricultural-residential, to GR, general residential. In November, the County’s Planning & Zoning Department had recommended approval of the zoning change.

Based on GR zoning, which allows four units per acre, Councilman Doug Hudson made the motion to reduce the number of permitted units to 16 because the land in question is just under 4 acres. That motion also passed unanimously.

Property owner Robert Harris, reached immediately after the vote, said little, only that “We’re still thinking about it.” Asked about the drastic reduction in units, he said he had no further comment.

His plan, for a three-building complex, with 15 two- or three-bedroom apartments in each, on 3.93 acres west of Muddy Neck Road and northwest of Parker House Road, near Ocean View, has been met with opposition from the beginning, and Hudson was particularly opposed to the density.

“In my opinion, 45 apartments on that property will have a significant traffic impact,” Hudson said, commenting before the council voted on the zoning change.

Like all requests, he heavily scrutinized this one, Hudson said, and took into consideration that Muddy Neck and Parker House roads are narrow, with no shoulders. With increased density comes more traffic, which can lead to accidents, he said.

“I know the traffic situation in past years and what it has become,” he said, disagreeing with a Delaware Department of Transportation report indicating increased traffic congestion, even with the addition of 45 apartments, would be negligible.

He also expressed concern about proposed stormwater management methods and use of impervious surfaces, saying they flood easily. The ditch on one side of the property is not maintained and the culvert under Muddy Neck Road is clogged, Hudson said.

During the public hearing on the matter last week, Hudson said, use of impervious surfaces was a concern to residents in that area. He said the developer will have to follow all requirements made by the Delaware Water & Soil Conservation District, and methods evaluated to see if impervious surfaces are suitable.

Hudson said he was born and raised in Bethany Beach and has lived in this region all his life, working for the state police for 27 years and frequenting the Muddy Neck expanse “several times a week.”

“I know the area. I know what it was, and I know what it has become over the years. Traffic near the beach can be, let’s say… trying at times, but it’s still a wonderful place to grow up and raise children. I do feel market-rate apartments are needed in this area for newcomers, for police officers, for teachers. A lot of people need short-term rentals until they find a place where they want to buy and settle,” he said.

Later, Hudson told the Coastal Point, “There no way I could go along with having 45 apartments in that area.”

“They asked for GR, but up-zoning to just under 12 units per acre was too much. We need apartments desperately, but not that density. I feel very good about what we did. I got a lot of letters, a lot of statements, saying people don’t mind the property being developed. They just don’t want 45 apartments in there,” he said.

Hudson said the developer will also be required to get approvals from DelDOT and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control.

 

Neighbors had expressed concerns about project

 

During the public hearing on the matter last week, no one spoke in favor of building the apartment complex.

Among those speaking against it was Diana Emlet, an outspoken opponent who lives in Ocean View. She reminded county council members that more than 1,100 letters of objection had been sent and suggested apartments be put in the business area of Ocean View so they and year-round residences are not too close together.

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

Dave Muller of Millville questioned the logic of allowing six-month leases.

“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.

Harris 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 man identifying himself as a retired law-enforcement detective said he felt the apartment complex isn’t compatible with 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 said.

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 learned the last traffic count done 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 or what the exterior will be made of, since no architectural rendering has been released, and like speakers before him, asked about the impact on schools and the wisdom of six-month leases. He asked if sub-leases will be permitted and where trash dumpsters will be located.

An Ocean View resident noted that local schools already have portable classrooms due to overcrowding and said adding more children to the schools should be a consideration. (Portable classrooms are in use at Indian River High School, which serves the area in question.)

Thomas Douglas said he agreed with objections previously expressed and asked how adding five or six people in 45 apartments community-wide 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.

 

By Susan Canfora
Staff Reporter