Red Cedar Farms and industrial park final plans approved

Terry RogersGovernment, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Aerial view of land which will become Red Cedar Farms development (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

At a recent meeting, Milford City Council approved two final site plans, one for Red Cedar Farms, a housing development off Bucks Road and for the city’s industrial park planned for the corner of Milford Harrington Highway and Canterbury Road. Both approvals were approved unanimously with council feeling that one would bring higher end homes to the area while the other would bring jobs.

“Applicants have submitted an application for a property that’s zoned R2 residential district. The property is currently vacant, and the proposed use is a single family detached dwelling subdivision. The applicant received preliminary major subdivision approval from City Council on October 24, 2022, for the construction of 200 single family homes,” Rob Pierce, City Planner, said of the Red Cedar Farms request. “We’re back here for final major subdivision this evening. We have DelDOT, Sussex Conservation District, fire marshal and the city engineer. Approvals. The Planning Commission reviewed this application at their march 19 meeting and recommended approval upon a vote of five to zero.”

Two items will need to be addressed by the developer, including an off-site sewer pump station as well as amenity areas. Mike Ryman, an engineer for Becker Morgan Group, explained that the plans for Red Cedar Farms had come before council six different times over the past few years. The only change in the final plan presented that evening was a reduction from 200 homes to 199. The reason for the reduction in lots was due to a discovered burial plot on the property.

“In Delaware, as you know, this goes through the PLUS process, and the Historic Cultural Affairs is typically part of that review. During that review, there was no notification or acknowledgement of potential cemetery. We received notification after our hearings that there was the potential for one in that location,” Riemann said. “So following that meeting, we hired an archaeologist to go out there and investigate it, map and document everything so we knew where that was. We then modified the layout to avoid that area, which is required under state law. And that has been done and completed. And that’s what’s taken us a little bit of time to get back here. We wanted to make sure that we were very thorough in that process.”

Councilman Mike Boyle asked if the area would be marked off so that it would not be disturbed. Ryman stated they did not want to put a fence around it as there was concern it would become a dog park, so they decided to leave it in its natural state. There were no above-ground indications that a cemetery existed there, such as gravestones, and that is how the developer planned to leave the space.

During public comment, several people expressed concerns about the project. Howard Webb, who takes care of property adjacent to the land proposed for development, stated that when he and his wife visited his property, a gentleman there claimed to be an engineer for the project. The man, who Webb did not identify by name, asked if the creek in the area always held that much water, leading Webb to question the drainage plan for the property. Kim Wills was concerned about the cost of the houses, pointing out that the city needed more affordable houses.

“For the past nine years, every morning when I go out to collect my mail, I’m looking at a beautiful vista of agricultural open space. I stand before you not supporting it or being against it. I’m a realist. And I understand things happen and my remarks this evening, basically addressed to the gentleman from Schell brothers,” Raymond Hendricks, who lives on Bucks Road, said. “I hope that when the plan is done, and completed, that the environmental outcome when it’s complete will be favorable. And the only question is, I would hope that the plant material would all be native trees and shrubs for the state of Delaware. Not Bradford Pears, burning bush and an assortment of other exotics.”

Nina Pletcher asked if there could be some sort of marker identifying the cemetery so that people were not tempted to use the land.

“I’m against this development, not all developments just to make that clear. Just this one in the area that it is. I don’t think that Milford has the infrastructure to deal with it. You’re talking about 200, 199 lots so you’re talking about times two cars, maybe three since these are expensive homes,” Julie Morris of Cedar Beach Road said. “You’re talking about all those kids as well in the school system that is already struggling. I don’t think this is a good plan. And I don’t think if the community were involved in this process in 2022 and 2021, when it was approved, then granted an extension that it would have moved forward because the house that’s there, the lands that are there. There’s not room for it, and I know that you guys want to put big houses and have more people come with the people are living in Milford, affordable housing, not these homes that people can’t afford. All of the developments that are out here right now are still homes that people can’t afford, right? Like I don’t know the numbers, but I can take a look.”

Morris continued, pointing out that this was just another development with homes people would not be able to afford.

“So, who’s going to be coming to this development other than people from New Jersey, no offense, anyone from New Jersey, but I just don’t think that this should be approved. And I think that if you guys are taking the considerations of the people who live around here, then you won’t pass this, approve it. And it’s going to come down to your individual opinions and your individual desires, not the Planning Commission because there were many people there that night who did not want them to approve it,” Morris said. “But they listened to Mr. Rutt who said they had to approve it, that this was just a rubber stamp that would go to council, and they have to approve it. Many of them did not want to approve it. You could see it they did not so Mr. Rutt made it seem like they had to. So now it’s in your hands. And I’m telling you, if you push this through, I will be protesting demonstrating against this development all day, as often as I can with as many people as I can, because I don’t think it should be built there. And you will have elections coming up for this year and four next year. Remember that.”

A final subdivision plan for the Milford Corporate Center which will be completed in phases, was approved my city council

City Solicitor David Rutt addressed Morris’ statements about his comments to the Planning Commission.

“The Delaware Superior Court as well as the Supreme Court issued a rule first off, these rulings go back into the 1970s and it was really laid out in the case in Superior Court in East Lake Partners vs the City of Dover in 1994. But then in 2008, the Supreme Court said when people purchase land zoned for a specific use, they’re entitled to rely on the fact that they can implement that use provided it complies with all of the specific criteria found in the evidences and subject to reasonable conditions, which the Planning Commission may impose in order to minimize any adverse impact on nearby landowners and residences,” Rutt said, quoting the ruling. “Hold otherwise, to subject the subjective purchaser of land zoned for a specific use to the future whim or caprese of the commission by clothing it with the ability to impose ad hoc requirements on the use of land not specified anywhere in the ordinances. The result would be that the emphasis and certainty on all landowners respecting whether they can safely rely on the permitted uses conferred on their land under the zoning ordinances. The way this has been not only interpreted but applied is if the application and the applicant complies with all of the specific requirements set forth in the code, they are entitled as a matter of right to move forward with their land use.”

Rutt explained that approval of a final subdivision plan basically was a rubber stamp since the developer complied with the requirements. The Red Cedar Farms development was before council six times prior to this meeting and met with requests from the city, the state and nearby residents which meant the Planning Commission and council had no option but to approve the application. Councilman Jason James pointed out that should the city deny the application, they could face a lawsuit from the developer as case law was clear. Councilman Brian Baer asked if there was any chance of flooding on the property.

“Stormwater management as was stated is the purview of the Sussex Conservation District. State law requires that we demonstrate that the drainage and runoff from this site does not exceed what is leaving the site today. So that is a state law, that’s a requirement,” Riemann said. “So, we prepare a stormwater package there’s a report that’s [pretty] thick. That goes to the Sussex Conservation District there’s a lot of back and forth and rigorous review with them. They ensure that any drainage leaving our site doesn’t represent an increase on any neighboring property. That’s their primary role. Their primary concern, I can assure you in my 23 years of doing these types of designs and reviews, it is something they take very seriously. It’s why it takes months to get through the process to come back before you with a final is that we have to get through that rigorous test and we’ve passed that test.”

Riemann responded to a question from Councilwoman Katrina Wilson about whether this was land that regularly floods that it was not. He also stated that he did not know who the gentleman was that Webb spoke to and that it may not have been someone from their office. Councilman Todd Culotta asked what the recourse would be if flooding occurred later, and Ryman stated that anyone could reach out to the Sussex Conservation District.

“In response to Ms. Pletcher’s question, is there any appetite to at least place a marker on the historical gravesite?” Councilman James asked. Riemann stated that the developer would be okay with that request. Councilman Andy Fulton felt it would be nice to get historical or cultural information about the gravesite.

Councilman Culotta pointed out that the city needed all types of housing.

“I think there was some discussion too about the topic of affordable housing, how it says on their housing availability in Milford. My take on it is you have to have all types of housing. You can’t just favor one over the other. I don’t think we favor high end all the time. I don’t think we favor low either,” Councilman Culotta said. “I think each project on its own merits. We need housing for executives, for health professions. as we lose these people to Lewes and the beach areas, so I do think it’s important and I hope that neighboring properties can be happy with the final product.”

Councilman James agreed.

“Thank you, Councilman Culotta, because you just made some very important points because affordable housing is like basically 30% of someone’s residual income after taxes. So who decides what is affordable? And one of the things that you’re speaking of is an issue that is hurting our health care system in Sussex County, is that the market is not available to attract the doctors and other professionals that are needed,” Councilman James said. “They go somewhere else. So, when we can provide the types of homes that they may be interested in, we may satisfy some of our primary care and some of our specialist needs in the healthcare systems that we just can’t attract right today.”

Councilman Mike Boyle pointed out that people are buying the higher-end houses and that the city had approved affordable housing projects over the past year, although those projects have not begun yet. He explained that housing is driven by the market and that it was “pure economics.” Councilman Boyle felt that this could also generate other projects that go along with the industrial park.

“I always go back to growth at every level. So, in five years, I might be ready to go there. So, it’s every level and then those people that might be on the lower range economically might be able to go where I am and that’s just the way growth is, the way we should want to live,” Councilman Wilson said. “ If we want to improve our lifestyles or have the means to improve, improve our lifestyle and we invite developers to investigate, research and try to come up with more diversity because it’s, it is a neat to me for the working force to know there are options.”

Councilman Fulton made a motion, seconded by Councilman Boyle to approve the final subdivision plan with the addition of a marker designating the cemetery. During the roll call vote, council members explained their reasons for approving the plan.

“It complies with code, and I think the other folks said we do need different housing levels, especially for the doctors working across the street,” Councilman Marabello said. “They seem to have addressed the water run-off and the historical marker.”

Councilman Boyle voted yes as it met city code.

“I vote yes it goes back to basic tenants that when farmers are done farming the land, they sell it and they sell it to someone that they’re going to make money from. And at times, it’s a developer,” Councilman Fulton said. “And what the developer looks at is the economic area and decides what’s best and what they can make money on. That’s just the way the whole process works people and with that in mind, for rent housing is needed in places lower end and other places. And in this case, I hope that we can attract the people who need to provide the upper end services to the community.”

Councilman Brian Baer voted yes as the development provided full spectrum housing that would keep doctors and nurses from going to towns like Lewes.

“Yes, when I talk to various developers, they’ve always said that they will build a house that the market is willing to support,” Councilman Culotta said. “I know this. We’ve seen this before. So, I do look forward to what that will bring and I commend developers for taking that risk. Like I said that all the folks around it that are used to open space can be accommodating and everybody get along.”

Councilwoman Nirmala Samaroo was concerned about the drainage but satisfied with the response from the developer. Although she voted yes, she pointed out that more affordable housing was needed in the area.

“My vote is yes, and I do echo my comments that I have spoken to executives of our healthcare systems for the need of housing for the high end professionals, the doctors, the specialists, even the nurses and the housing stock just isn’t there,” Councilman Jason James said. “There’s been gains mad on the amenities and things to do, but the upper-end housing stock is lacking. So, I commend Schell Brothers for picking that area.  I am glad it is in Milford and I hope it benefits Bayhealth , so I am looking forward to it.”

Councilwoman Wilson felt that the development complied with code, the strategic plan and was signed off by all the agencies involved.

“In this job, we have to be consistent with what we approve and sometimes it’s not always easy to do but when you have to have your bylaws, your policies and your procedures in front of you, we have to stay within the range of what lies before us because we want an equal opportunity town,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “We have to stay within the guidelines, and we all try to do that. It’s not always easy, but we do try to do that. When you come here to this seat, you have to try to do that, or it will catch up with you.”

After announcing the motion passed by a vote of eight to zero, Mayor Archie Campbell made a comment.

“I just want to make a comment since I’m a Jersey guy. I’ve been here now 17 years; everybody tells me to watch what I say. It’s been 17 years since actually I moved to Milford and I moved here because of the tax bracket,” Mayor Campbell said. “I will be completely honest. What’s affordable for you may not have been affordable for someone else. So, from the income you have, that 30% is going to tell you what you can buy. Actually, I know the Schell Brother’s houses that they build. And I know the crews that they take a lot of pride in what they do. So I’m gonna say thank you and welcome.”

In addition to approving Red Cedar Farms, council also approved the final site plan for the Milford Industrial Park at Milford Harrington Highway and Canterbury Road unanimously. There was no opposition or support from the public during a public hearing after the request for the approval was made. During the roll call vote, almost every councilperson felt that the new park would bring many jobs to the area.











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