by Terry Rogers
On Monday, October 28, Milford City Council, by a vote of six to zero, denied a request to rezone property located at the intersection of Seabury Avenue and Route 113 from OC (Office Complex) to C3 (Highway Commercial). Although discussion at the meeting was only for a change of zoning, the applicants intended to place a convenience store with gas pumps on the property should the zoning change be approved.
“This is an application for a change of zone,” City Solicitor David Rutt explained. “I know many of you are here for the potential use. The change of zone is to a C3 and there are a lot of things that can be done on that. It is important to explain that the applicant will have to come back and have a whole separate hearing for what will go there, that will be a whole separate hearing. The applicant can explain why they want the zone change but we aren’t going to discuss what could possibly go there. Therefore, all of your comments must be related to the change of zone.”
Rob Pierce, City Planner, explained that the change of zone was consistent with the 2018 Comprehensive Plan and that the property to the right of this parcel was designated C3 with a medical arts building on the property. Other parcels around the property were also zoned commercial although the properties across the street were zoned residential. The Planning Commission reviewed the application and recommended approval to City Council with a vote of four to zero.
“Our comp plan shows this as commercial and it is already zoned commercial,” Councilman Jason James said. “I notice that around this property is C3 but this particular property remained OC1. I am wondering why this particular property remained OC1 when others around it were made C3.” Pierce said that he was not comfortable answering that and pointed out that all properties surrounding the parcel in question were not zoned C3.
Councilman Todd Culotta asked what types of properties were permitted in C3. Pierce explained that C3 would be many types of commercial use, much of what may be found downtown, like retail, fast food, supermarkets, service stations, daycares and more. The current zoning would allow large office complexes, tv or radio stations, health centers, clinics and more. Pierce also explained that the only properties currently zoned OC1 were in the Independent Commons Business Park off of Airport Road.
“It appears to me that what is allowed in OC1 compared to what is permitted in C3, it seems the one thing that stands out is that C3 categories are for businesses that need a large parking area or have high traffic,” Councilman James said. “OC1 may not have the traffic impact that C3 will have. My concern is not 113 itself, but high traffic impact commercial going on that corner. I don’t think the council has a say on where entrances are permitted. If that is high traffic impact off of Seabury, that would change the nature of the road.”
Mike Reimann of Becker Morgan Group spoke on behalf of Bill Owen, the developer of the property. He explained that Seabury Avenue is a major collector and is a state road. He also explained that the property is already zoned commercial with an OC1 designation.
“A couple things that can go in OC1 are things like medical clinics, emergency centers that could be 24 hours,” Reimann said. “A seven-story building could be added to house this clinic. A convenience store with gas pumps is picking up traffic that is already on the road. On the way to work, on the way to drop kids at school or on the way home. They aren’t making a special trip to that location. From a traffic perspective, we feel that is a good thing as opposed to a medical center. A daycare center is allowed in OC1 and they generate a lot of traffic. This site has water, it has sewer, it has an intersection with a major arterial and a major collector. The zoning is consistent with the surrounding zoning and it fits in your comp plan. We have talked to DelDOT about proposed entrances and exits but we can’t finalize anything until we have a site plan. We can’t have a site plan until we have zoning.”
Residents who lived on Seabury Avenue and in the surrounding area spoke against the zoning change, stating that increased traffic would be dangerous to school children as well as bicyclists and pedestrians in the area.
“The current comp plan is a guide, not a mandate,” George Armintriger, a local resident, said. “The speed limit is already 25 and was addressed by council two months ago. As far as traffic is concerned, we already deal with speeders. That corner is currently used as a bus stop right across the street. You have mandated that with Simpson Crossing, Cherry Street will be used as an entrance or exit for that. We already deal with OC1, we are comfortable with OC1 and we would like to keep it that way.”
Charles Adams explained that the intersection is already configured at an odd angle and that there are multiple accidents at the location as many drivers fail to yield to traffic coming from Seabury Avenue. He pointed out that the intersection was closed to crossover traffic many years ago for this reason. It is also not a suitable intersection for a light due to the proximity of the intersection to the light at Lakeview Avenue and the one at Redner’s, Adams stated.
“We are being inundated with Simpson Crossing,” Christine Simpson Reed, who lives on South Walnut Street, said. “I want to know the impact of life on this rezoned property. There could be a business open 24 hours a day, seven days per week. People will be coming in, turning around, driving across the street from people’s homes where they have lived 30 or 40 years. Quite medical offices across the street is fine. A quiet attorney’s office is fine. There are so many other properties that are more suitable for this up and down route 113. I am not sure why we are so desperate to sell a piece of property that is so close to people’s homes when we have all of 113 from north Milford to Georgetown to put a gas station.
After the close of the public hearing, Councilman Michael Boyle explained several reasons why he was opposed to the change of zone.
“The 2018 comp plan, I was on the committee that wrote that plan,” Councilman Boyle said. “Although it says the property is suitable for C3, it does not require us to change to that. Immediately, next to this property is an attorney’s office and a vacant medical office. It is on a parcel that is an odd shape that would mean what was placed there would need to have access on Seabury Avenue. The intersection is difficult and anyone who has ever tried to get across will tell you that people look at yield as an option. It is not an option. It is required. I have found myself braking in the middle of 113 South. Growth is coming and will continue to come. Normally, I would agree with the Planning Commission, but in this case I do not agree. It just doesn’t fit.”
Council voted six to zero to deny the zoning change request. Councilman Culotta stated that even though the zone change is in line with the comprehensive plan, the plan is general and that it was his belief something else could go on that parcel. Councilman Doug Morrow stated that he felt the parcel was simply too small while Councilman James felt the change of zone would have a negative impact on the surrounding area.
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