Sussex County Delaware

Americana Bayside
Gets 1,700 Homes

Americana Bayside ...

Council Compromises
on Freeman Proposal

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GEORGETOWN -- In a decision that pleased no one but represented a compromise between a developer and opponents in southeastern Sussex County, county council has voted to allow Freeman Communities to build its Americana Bayside community on Route 54 west of Fenwick Island with 1,700 homes and 170,000 square feet of commercial space.

Council voted 4-1 to rezone the 877.03-acre territory from AR-1 to MR-RPC at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2001. The community will also include a golf course, medical facilities, and a 104-unit assisted living facility.

The 4-1 vote to change the zoning represented a compromise between the 2,200 homes the Planning & Zoning Commission recommended and the 1,165 to 1,622 homes the previous AR-1 zoning would have allowed depending on whether wetlands, roads and the golf course were excluded from the calculation.

Despite the compromise, neither side expressed satisfaction with the decision made before a standing-room only crowd in council chambers. The crowd featured Freeman employees, vendors and real estate agents with pro-Americana Bayside stickers, and residents and town officials opposed to the rezoning with anti-Americana Bayside stickers.

Frank Kea, director of development for Freeman Communities, didn't like the decision, saying the company would have to re-evaluate the feasability of the project.

He also said the vote actually "downsized" the project from what would be allowable with the AR-1 lot size of 20,000 square feet. That would only be the case, however, if the entire 877.03 acres had been figured into the density calculation. Including all of the acreage, the count would be 1,910 homes under AR-1 zoning.

Bethany Beach Town Councilwoman Jane Fowler and Fenwick Island Mayor Peg Baunchalk both expressed their relief that the project's density was cut from 2,200 units to 1,700, but were dismayed that council approved the rezoning rather than limiting Freeman to the AR-1 zoning.

"It's not what I hoped for," said Baunchalk. "It leaves me a lot of concern about future requests from developers and at what densities. I think council missed an opportunity to show the residents of coastal Sussex County that they understand (the development problems in the coastal zone)."

"I think 1,700 is too many, but it's better than I (feared)," said Fowler. "It's a very frustrating thing that we've been fighting for years, and will go on fighting. We are very, very pleased with George Cole, and the other two gentlemen who voted with him on the 1,700."

After wrangling with the issue for more than a year, council wrangled with it for another hour on Tuesday.

The debate resembled an auction, with various councilmen making motions for various densities only to have their motions die for lack of a second.

The final 1,700-home, 170,000-square foot commercial figures had been proposed earlier in the discussion by Councilman George Cole, whose district the project is in.

That motion died for lack of a second but on the second go-round, Councilman Finley B. Jones seconded it and council voted 3-2 for those numbers. Cole, Jones and Councilman Lynn Rogers voted yes and Councilman Vance Phillips and Council President Dale Dukes voted no.

The council then voted 4-1 on the entire ordinance, which contains 25 stipulations that Freeman must meet. Dukes voted no because he felt council should have followed Planning & Zoning's recommendation for 2,200 homes.

During the debate, the following motions died for lack of a second:

  • 1,200 homes and 120,000 square feet of commercial space by Cole;
  • 2,156 homes and 215,000 square feet of commercial space by Phillips;
  • 1,800 units and 180,000 square feet of commercial space by Rogers;
  • 1,700 units and 150,000 square feet of commercial space by Cole;
  • and 2,000 units with 200,000 square feet of commercial space by Phillips.

The discussion began with Dukes alleging that the county's Planning & Zoning Commission had incorrectly calculated the allowable number of homes on the tract and citing a land use plan from 1975 that Freeman Communities had put into the case's file.

That 1975 plan had recommended a Village Concept for growth in the county that included the Americana Bayside territory. Cole was beside himself when Dukes brought up the 1975 plan.

"To base a current development decision on a 1975 plan is absurd," said Cole. "The Village Concept, no one conjured up a development the size of Miliford in terms of density. Then the Village Concept was scrapped because it wasn't working. It's not related. We've come a long way (since 1975) and it's a shame you would try to use a 1975 plan to justify this."

Council then discussed the stipulations the Planning & Zoning Commission had recommended, amended several of those stipulations, and added four more.

Council approved stipulations that the state would not vacate any state roads in the development, would provide public access through the development to the end of Road 394 and the beach on Assawoman Bay there, would keep the project's assisted living units on the North side of Route 54 west of Route 20, and would limit all commercial activity to the south side of Route 54.

Further, Council stipulated that the commercial activity would have no direct access from Route 54 but would instead have an entrance at least 300 feet from Route 54.

Council also changed several of the planners' stipulations. In addition to the number of dwelling units and commercial space, council changed a stipulation that only 300 building permits could be issued per year to 200 cumulative residential certificates of occupancy per year.

It also struck out a stipulation for a 100-foot setback from the golf course and wetlands bordering Drum Creek, Roy Creek and Assawoman Bay.

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