By Terry Rogers
On June 26, Milford City Council held public hearings to discuss changes recommended by the Planning Commission for the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The discussion was to approve sending the plan to the state for PLUS Review as part of the required updates to the plan.
The Comprehensive Plan sets forth in graphic and textual form policies that govern future physical development of the City. Delaware Code requires that the City review the plan every five years to determine if provisions that are included are still relevant. Code also requires that the plan be revised, updated and readopted at least every ten years. Milford last adopted a revised plan in 2008, which means Delaware Code requires another update no later than 2018.
“The Planning Commission began reviewing the Comprehensive Plan in March 2016 and have continued reviewing it [since],” Rob Pierce, City Planner, said. “In May 2016, we released a community questionnaire to residents in order to get feedback on what they would like to see included in the plan. Business owners and civic organizations have also met to discuss the plan and we held two public meetings at the library to allow public input. Overall we have had nine public hearings and two information programs.” Mr. Pierce said that he was requesting permission from Council to send the plan to the State for review in order to have any remarks from the PLUS Committee by the end of August for Council to review with the goal of finalizing the plan by the end of 2017.
Mr. Pierce explained that the Comprehensive Plan establishes goals for the future of the City and outlines steps that need to be taken to achieve those goals. The plan addresses such issues as transportation, housing, parks, open space, land use and more. The Planning Commission developed a vision statement that is part of the plan as well.
“The vision statement reads ‘Milford takes great pride in its riverfront and its rich historical and cultural heritage which dates back to the 18th century,’” Mr. Pierce read. “The City wishes to build upon these enduring and desirable attributes, enhancing community resiliency and to see Milford grow into a riverfront gateway in southern Delaware. With a commitment to thoughtful economic development and resilience in environmental changes, as well as protection of its most cherished assets, the City envisions itself as a year-round vibrant employment center that stays true to its small-town roots and its feel. A small town and city where residents are able to live, work, go to school and recreate.’”
During the meeting, Mr. Pierce reviewed several goals set forth in the Comprehensive Plan as well as a review of some of the zoning changes that would be recommended under the plan. Mr. Pierce said that any zoning changes recommended by the plan would need to be put into effect by the City within 18 months of the adoption of the plan. Mayor Bryan Shupe expressed concern regarding the limited timeline, asking Mr. Pierce what would happen if the zoning changes were not passed by that time limit.
“The adoption of the plan would occur sometime around the end of the year,” Mr. Pierce explained. “We would then start public hearings after the first of the year for those changes. If for some reason the changes do not get passed, the land use would just remain the same and the next opportunity we would have to adjust our land use we would try to put something in that would bring it into compliance.”
City Solicitor David Rutt explained that the Comprehensive Plan was like a vision, a recommendation of what the City would like to see happen. He said that there were properties in the City that had been improperly zoned and that Mr. Pierce had reached out to those landowners who were receptive to changing the zoning to bring them into compliance. Some of these changes were reflected in the Comprehensive Plan. Mayor Shupe said that he wanted to make sure the public understood that the plan was a vision but that it did not make any changes to zoning even after it is adopted and that further steps would need to be taken to officially change any zoning proposed in the plan.
Councilwoman Lisa Peel, who was unable to attend the meeting as she was out of town, provided a letter to Council which Councilman Jamie Burk read into the record. Councilwoman Peel expressed concerns regarding potential rezoning of land surrounding the Clarke Avenue complex that would be vacated by Bayhealth after the new campus was completed. The property is in the process of being purchased by Nationwide Health Services who plan to convert the building into a long-term care facility. Concern was expressed over rezoning ten acres of land surrounding the complex to high-density residential. Nationwide has expressed a desire to sell the property to a buyer that plans to use the land for townhomes or apartments geared toward a 55 and older community on the acreage. In order to do so, zoning would need to be changed.
“Currently, there is a hodgepodge of zoning in the area,” Mr. Pierce explained. “The 2008 plan identifies the parcels as institutional but the current zoning is not in compliance with that. This is still very much in the preliminary stage and it could go either way. It would still need to go through the process even after the plan is approved and there would be public hearings based on what this design would look like and how the land would be used regardless of the zoning in the plan.”
Alan Levine, who represents Nationwide Health Care, said that the company is currently focused on the long-term care facility, but that they knew something would need to be done with the additional ten acres of land that came with the purchase. He said that Nationwide was willing to work with members of the community, especially those who live in the neighborhood, to make sure that whatever is placed on the land would fit with the community and have the least impact on the residents as possible.
Council unanimously authorized the Planning Coordinator to present the comprehensive plan to PLUS but to exclude the R-3 in the designated 10-acre multi-family area as had been discussed.
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