By Lynn R. Parks

The city of Seaford has denied a developer’s request that property that he owns be rezoned to allow construction of townhouses.

The city council Tuesday night voted unanimously to keep the zoning of 12 acres of the Belle Ayre development on the west edge of town R-1, for single-family homes. Developer Michael Stortini, Wilmington, had requested that the property be rezoned R-3.

Following the refusal of the rezoning request, Stortini’s request for approval of a sketch plan for 132 townhouses on the property was also turned down.

The votes followed a public hearing at which several area residents spoke against the proposed townhouse community. They expressed concerns about increased traffic, as well as about the fact that the townhouses would not be owner-occupied.

“These would all be rental properties,” said Dawn Evans. “That’s not fair to the people who’ve bought in there.”

Stortini countered that the townhouses would be “high-end rentals.” Market price per townhouse would be $220,000, he said.

The Belle Ayre community was first approved by the city council in 2005. As it was originally planned, it was to have a mix of single-family homes and townhouses.

Of the 115 townhouses that were to be part of the community, more than 30 have been built. Stortini said Tuesday night that his company is preparing to start construction on the remaining 77 townhouses. Those townhouses are owner-occupied.

But the single-family portion of the development has never taken off. Of the 83 homes the development was to have, only 20 have been built. Another 12 lots in the development have been improved and are ready to have homes built on them. But about 12 acres of the development, with 51 lots, are undeveloped and still being farmed.

Stortini said during the hearing that the development has languished since it was first approved. “This subdivision has been in distress since its inception,” he said. “Obviously the current zoning does not work, or it would have been completed by now.”

The change from single-family homes to townhouses was the subject of a Sept. 10 planning and zoning commission meeting. Also discussed by the commission was the developer’s plan to build 132 townhouses.

By unanimous vote, the commission recommended that the city council approve the request for zoning change as well as approve a sketch plan of the development. But the motion for the sketch plan approval carried with it a statement from commissioner Stacie Spicer: “The increase in homes from the originally proposed 51 single homes to 132 townhouses is a large increase and I would like the integrity of the homes and surrounding areas to be considered.”

On Tuesday, Stortini told the city council that, based on comments from the planning and zoning commission, the number of townhouses being planned had been reduced, to 116. In addition, amenities for the residents had been added, including a pool, clubhouse, fitness center and pickleball or tennis courts.

But those changes weren’t reflected in the sketch plans that were presented to the city council for approval.

Councilman James King said that that concerned him. “You are talking about doing things differently from what you said before,” he told Stortini. “Nothing of what you’re saying here has been communicated to me before tonight’s meeting.”

In comments during the public hearing, Councilman Dan Henderson said that in 1988, when the property on which Belle Ayre is located was annexed into the city, voters approved the annexation with the understanding that the property would be zoned for construction of single-family homes. The city has “an obligation to uphold the intend of the electorate that allowed the annexation to become a reality,” Henderson said.

Henderson also said that during a public hearing on the annexation, held on Oct. 11, 1988, “the developer made special emphasis to the R-1 designation,” and said that such housing was much needed in Seaford.

“Thirty-two years later, Seaford remains in shortage of that type of housing,” Henderson said. As recently as this year, the city’s Economic Development Committee “met to discuss the incentivization of single-family dwellings in the city.”

The city already has 135 acres of land zoned for R-3 development, and only 103 acres zoned for single-family homes, Henderson said. Changing the zoning of this parcel would put the city “out of balance.”

Henderson also expressed concern about increased traffic in the area, including in nearby Woodside Manor.

Councilman Matt MacCoy said that all of the people who live in the area of Belly Ayre with whom he had spoken had concerns about the change in zoning. “I’m just not in favor of anything that’s going to raise such concerns from residents,” he said. “Nobody wants to see additional development in Seaford any more than I do. But it has to be the right kind of development, the kind of development we can be proud of.”

Annexation process of motel property moves forward

The Sunrise Motel on U.S. 13 north of Seaford is one step closer to being annexed into the city.

The city council Tuesday night held a public hearing on motel owner Sapan Shah’s request that the property be annexed. No one from the public spoke on the matter.

At its Sept. 8 meeting, the city council accepted a report compiled by councilmen Dan Henderson, Matt MacCoy and Orlando Holland, that recommended that the annexation process be allowed to move forward.

At both meetings, Henderson praised the improvements that Shah has made to the one-story, 22-unit motel. “He already has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the property,” Henderson said. “That was a big plus toward the committee’s favorable recommendation.”

The next step in the annexation process is a council vote, scheduled for the Oct. 13 meeting. Approval of the annexation requires that two-thirds of the council vote for it.

Shah submitted his request for annexation on June 15. In his application, he said that he wanted to be able to hook into city utilities. 

If the property is annexed, Shah intends to expand the size of his motel with construction of a second, 22-unit, 7,000-square foot building behind the existing structure. At its July 28 meeting, the city council agreed to Shah’s request that, if the property is annexed, he not be required to pay utility connection fees for the current building. He will still have to pay the fees to connect the second, new building to the city services.

Fees for both buildings would total more than $64,000. Director of economic development Trisha Newcomer said in a July 21 memo to councilmen that charging fees on both buildings “greatly affects the feasibility of the project.” Shah’s continued pursuit of the annexation is “contingent upon…relief of fees on the existing property.”