By Lynn Schofer

The city of Seaford ordered the installation of a gate that closes off Magnolia Drive in the Woodside Manor Development to the Belle Ayre community. The gate which stops all traffic connections between the two developments was installed on Aug. 1 and has since been the hot topic of debate.  

Additionally, permanent speed bumps were installed on Magnolia Drive from 700 to 900  Magnolia Drive. Members of both communities presented their reactions and opinions during public comment at the most recent council meeting.

Robin Varette and Roxanne Knights are part of a community  committee that wants the gate removed and believe it is a matter of public safety. Seaford police chief Marshall Craft agreed that public safety is the priority and said in a recent interview, “This is not about blocking one community out from another. This is a traffic calming measure and speed bumps work but we needed something additional and treated as two separate entities.”

The gate that closes off Magnolia Drive in the Woodside Manor Development to the Belle Ayre community was installed Aug. 1.

Craft, who attended the recent council meeting, said the 15 mph posted speed limit was in existence for over 40 years in the development. Craft also reported the original Woodside Manor did not have access to the area now known as Belle Ayre and was blocked off with a gate.

“That road was never intended to be connected and at some point things changed.” Craft added, “In April 2019 I received a complaint about speeding on Magnolia and heard that it has been a safety concerns for decades which led to observations and studies.”  

The studies on traffic volume and speed violations began over a year ago. Chief Craft reported the speed bumps were present for the summer of 2022 and part of the fall before removing them prior to the threat of snow. On Oct. 25, 2022 the city council minutes include Director Berley Mears’ presentation of the results of the speed bump pilot program. The Oct. 25 minutes show the speed bumps were installed on Nylon Boulevard and Magnolia Drive at the end of May 2022 through  November 7. The department reported to council that there was a significant reduction in speeding complaints. The police department recommended that the temporary speed bumps be replaced with permanent ones. 

Knights said she was happy to see other people at the council meeting, “I was heartened by the other people that came out and spoke that it should be removed and Seaford Police should do their job.” 

Chief Craft said in response, “It is not just the speeding it is the volume of traffic. The police do not have the resources to dedicate to sit out there so someone can have the convenience to travel through another community and impact the traffic safety of that community. I have empathy and compassion and if I lived there, I would want to cut through too.” 

Craft said the one thing that speed bumps did not change was the volume of traffic which makes it a traffic safety issue, “We have run radar and the easy thing to say is just sit a police officer there and that would require seven day a week 24 hour a day post and that is not reasonable nor feasible.” 

Knights said they had hoped the gate issue was going to be placed on to the agenda for the council meeting. “Since the gate did not make the agenda I would like to know how did the Woodside Manor people know to come to the meeting for public commentary,” Knights added. “We have 200 signatures on the petition and still working on a meeting in the community. We learned that many people did not speak the English language and when we translated, they were angry and want the gate down. The renters were not informed that there would be a cow gate installed and they not have access to Dollar General and Pizza King and other businesses on that side of town.” 

“I do understand their concern for safety, however, in the nine years I have been there, I have never heard of a child being killed because of speed,” said Knights, who remarked that the Atlanta Road exit is much more dangerous. “The exit that they are pushing us to use, there have been three children and an adult killed in the past two years. “DelDOT would need to make changes for safety,” Craft said. “The volume of traffic coming from Belle Ayre was originally from 38 homes and then 115 units were built and are now building the other 51.” 

Craft spoke about Atlanta Road, “When DelDOT completed the studies it was from the Atlanta Road access and not city roads. At some point the city allowed the gate to be opened and for years it was 38 town homes that were in the community and no other development.” 

A contractor purchased the rest of the development and began building on the remaining 116 lots and now another 51 are being built right now. “The problem that was manageable became unmanageable within the last two years,” said Craft.

The department used JAMAR Radar box which performs the traffic study. The boxes are placed in strategic locations providing ascending and descending reads and overall combined traffic volume and speeds. The Magnolia Drive analysis was Nov. 2 through Dec. 1. Craft went before council on March 14, 2023 and presented the findings with recommendation of permanent speed bumps and a gate equipped with a Knox box.

In those 30 days 37,679 cars were analyzed in a posted speed limit of 15 MPH. The report indicated 80 percent (30,112) of traffic analyzed had enforceable violations. The average speed was 49 MPH with the highest of 118 mph. “This is a community with narrow roads and cars parked on both sides and kids are out playing and you can’t pass two cars typically.”  

Craft said the Woodside Manor people who have lived in the development for years reported to police that people were driving at high rates of speeds. Craft stated the study supported their concerns and complaints. Knights disagrees, “They said there were 38,000 cars on the street and but these are not qualified statements. He (Craft) did not site a source, what study it is and who did the study.”   

Both Knights and Varette said they did not watch the live city council feed of the March presentation but Varette said she read the meeting minutes and watched the video and said they feel like it was pushed through, “This all happened fast within 30 days.” 

The gate was installed on Aug. 1, three months after the meeting. “Up to that time, there was not a lot of clear information from the city, we did not understand what we were getting,” Varette said. “They never said this is permanent and would not allow residents to pass through. We thought we would get a code or something with a gate that goes up and down or something. They never said they were going to Tractor Supply.”

“I understand the inconvenience factor that a person does not want to drive around but when traffic patterns change you have to adapt to those changes. No one makes changes lightly and what I did was a study and presented that information with a recommendation to city council,” Craft said. “Since the gate went up, I am not aware of any complaints of the similar problems that we were receiving before the study and gate installation.”

Varette spoke on safety, “A chained and locked gate is an issue of public safety and emergency preparedness.” Knights added, “We want the gate down because it is unsafe, it is chained and locked and we have no information on how they are going to access it if there is an emergency back there. “They are just saying ‘oh well, emergency people can get through’.”  When asked, Knights remarked that they are city council members. 

Craft said, “The aesthetics of the gate is something the city can address but as far as access, the fire and police departments will probably not utilize that access. Most of the time they can get there faster down Atlanta Road and through Crossgate or Brighton Drive with the large equipment. All departments have a key to the lock.” Craft noted that because the roads are narrow in Woodside Manor the large emergency vehicles struggle to navigate especially with cars parked on both sides and would reach a situation more quickly taking Atlanta Road. He also noted that Chief Wilson may conduct their own study at some point. 

Varette disagrees and said, “It makes no sense to me for fire trucks to come down Atlanta Road when they can come right in through Magnolia. It has given us a lot of anxiety because we feel trapped and if there is an emergency or a fire, people are going to die.”

“We have been doing our research and there are many disabled people and seniors in the community and we are concerned about the emergency response timing. I checked into what a Knox box is and accessibility. I went to the gate and you must lift the gate up to push it up and a chain is wrapped around it,” said Knights. 

Trista Maples said she believes it is illegal to put a cattle gate on a public road and inquired about a permit.  

Varette said, “No survey was taken on how we feel about the options and they just made a decision, they did it, did not give us a lot of information and they wonder why we are mad. It is because we have to live with it and they are all living elsewhere.” 

“We are hearing different stories and want accurate information and answers,” said Knights.

Brandi Thompson of Belle Ayre said she wants the gate removed. “I have lived there for seven years. The gate is not making a difference and I would like to explore other options.” Thompson said she questions why there was not community input.

“I understand people get upset and this was not to intentionally inconvenience people but to save lives and prevent a tragedy. At 49 MPH you are not going to see those little feet on the other side of a parked car and the reality is we don’t have the resources to stay out there, like some think we should be, and I agree it would be ideal but we can’t do,” said Craft.

Craft said Woodside Manor is impacted because of the Belle Ayre growth and people deserve to feel safe from people speeding through their neighborhood. After the gate was installed a new JAMAR study was completed between Aug. 15-22. A total of 4,082 vehicles with 643 enforceable violations which is down to 16 percent volume in violation with average speed of 22 MPH. The study shows an average of 583 vehicles per day vs 1250 prior to the gate. Chief Craft noted the biggest difference is the volume of traffic and the average miles per hour from 49 down to 22. 

Varette remarked that the community had very little knowledge of the gate, “I think they are stuck and don’t want the change. I never heard about it until I saw the sign. I did receive a generalized letter but it did not have an urgency stamp on it. There was no offer of a meeting, nothing just that the speed bumps and gate will be going up on this date.” 

Chief Craft said, “We had numerous meetings with Belle Ayre Association and with Woodside, and Crossgate and the city sent letters out. There was a digital sign board that the entry would be blocked off. We ask the community to communicate directly to us. We don’t monitor Facebook 24/7 and we may not see it and if there is a problem contact the patrol lieutenant who is Lt. Walter Little.”  

Community members in support of the gate also spoke including Tom McLaughlin. “The traffic on Magnolia Drive has calmed down. There was constant traffic noise prior to the gate, the speed limit has dropped considerably and prior the speed bumps did not deter speeders. All you have to do is follow the law and we wouldn’t be here tonight,” he said.

Jay Milligan of Crossgate Drive said, “All this is based around safety. Everyone today has two or three cars and are parked on both sides. There was entirely too much traffic on what was the original plan.” 

Dwight Short of Ivy Drive said he has noticed a difference especially the reduction of speeders. 

Knights said the committee would like the city to agree to a meeting to discuss their concerns. “We would like the gate opened until further notice,” said Knights. 

The two women said they would not be opposed to a gate that members of the community would be able to pass through. Varette added she does not want people to speed and wants traffic safety and is not opposed to changes to make people more lawful. She said of the gate, “It is impacting our quality of life and it is one big community. I used to be able to drive to Dollar General or Pizza King and now I have to drive all the way around.” 

Knights said, “We wanted to be put on the agenda and were informed we needed to have a community meeting and invite both sides. I don’t think we are done and this will be a long haul. We have to keep on top of this and try to get it removed.”

Chief Craft said the pattern is stabilized and traffic safety is significantly improved. He noted the improvements for safety were the goal.

“Two things are happening, they are not paying attention and they are speeding. Speed bumps are not ideal but they work. We would not need them if people would not be speeding. The gate reduced the enormous amount of traffic passing through on a daily basis that was speeding,” Craft said.