Letter sent opposing Key Properties request to county

Terry RogersAbove the fold, Government, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Sussex County Planning and Zoning will hear a request from Key Properties LLC to change the county comp plan for this land from agricultural to commercial, a request the City of MIlford opposes

For the third time since 2018, Key Properties LLC is requesting land east of Route 1 near the Bayhealth Sussex Campus to be rezoned from agricultural to commercial. In 2018, Sussex County Council overruled their own Planning and Zoning Commission to deny a request to change the zone and, in 2022, the City of Milford denied a request to change their Comprehensive Plan for the property from low-density residential to Commercial. On April 24, 2024, at 3 PM, Key Properties will again present a request to Sussex County Planning and Zoning to change the zoning to commercial.

“The subject parcel was considered for commercial land use during the initial phase of the master plan, but commercial was not ultimately recommended due to difficulty in gaining road access to the property and the proximity to low density residential land uses,” the letter read. “City Council denied Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use map for the subject parcel in 2016 and again in 2022. In both instances, the property owner requested to change the future land use of the property from Low Density Residential to Commercial. The request was denied due to the proximity of low-density residential land uses in the area, availability of other commercial land for development within the city, and the difficulty in providing commercial road access to the site. According to PLUS comments provided by the State of Delaware in 2022, transportation access to the property would be by way of the adjacent parcel to the north owned by Mr. Wiggles, LLC and direct access to Route 1 would not be permitted.”

In 2018, East Gate Farms LLC, which owns land to the south of the parcel being reviewed this month, requested that Sussex County rezone the land to neighborhood business for an office complex. At the time, Councilman I.G. Burton stated that he was opposed to the zoning change.

“This property is a keystone in how Sussex County treats future land-use applications and development east of Route 1,” Burton said. “If we approve this one, it signals that Sussex County believes that more intensive uses are appropriate in this area. I do not want to start that trend with this property.”

Star indicates area where Key Properties is requesting change of land use from agricultural to commercial

The letter explained that there was already ample commercial property available west of Route 1 near the new hospital. According to the city, there are approximately 325 acres of developed highway commercial district land within Milford city limits. In addition, there are approximately 375 acres of undeveloped or underutilized commercial lands in the city limits, of which 245 acres are located along the Route 1 corridor. The letter also pointed out that Bayhealth Medical Center currently owns 65 acres of vacant commercial land east of the Sussex Health Campus that could yield over 500,000 square feet of office or retail space.

When this same request came before City Council in May 2022, it was denied with a vote of 6 to 1 with Councilman Todd Culotta casting the only vote to approve the request. Senator Dave Wilson spoke in favor of the change, stating that Milford needed additional options when it came to commercial services.

“Let’s go back, let’s just take you on a little heritage tour here. Let’s go back and look at what happened in Milford and back in the 60s and 70s with clothing stores,” Wilson said at the public hearing. “Coopersmith, Hoffman, Fisher’s JC Penney’s, Derrickson’s, Grant Store, you could go to Milford and buy a suit of clothes. You could go to Milford and take and do your shopping. A lady could go get an evening dress. You can’t even get a shirt in Milford now, why do people go to Dover? Because Milford doesn’t have what they need.”

However, Wilson was the only person in favor of the comprehensive plan change during that meeting. Steve Griffin, who was then the President of the Homeowner’s Association with Knollac Acres, pointed out that when Key Properties purchased the land, it was after the Comprehensive Plan was adopted and that the owner of Key Properties, Elmer Fannin, should have done his due diligence before buying the land.

During the vote which eventually denied the request, Councilman Culotta stated that he felt this was just a change to the master plan and that Key Properties would need to go through a lot of approvals to build anything on the property.

“I do appreciate the residents not wanting this right next to them, I do appreciate that,” Culotta commented in 2022. “But I was elected to represent taxpayers and voters, not 64 households that just don’t want it next to them. Again, I appreciate it, I don’t disagree with them, but I’m looking at the big picture here.”

The letter from the City of Milford concluded with a statement that they recommended Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission deny application CZ-2004 as it was not consistent with the City of Milford’s adopted Comprehensive Plan and Southeast Master Plan, which was prepared through extensive and inclusive planning effort by the city and its residents. It also stated there is sufficient land within the city appropriately zoned to accommodate the needed and welcomed growth to serve area residents.

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