Capital school board member says district wanted to buy Route 8 land from church in the future.
At the city of Dover Planning Commission’s Feb. 16 meeting, officials from the Capital School District expressed their strong objection to a proposal that would rezone 30 acres adjacent to the site of a new Dover High School and pave the way for the development of a 200-unit apartment complex.
The rezoning measure was tabled until the March meeting, but not before Capital Superintendent Dr. Michael D. Thomas argued an apartment complex next to an 1,800-student high school would be a bad fit.
“I believe both personally and professionally that high-density housing sitting on the boundary line of that high school is not a good thing, it’s a very bad thing,” he said.
The land in question is located on Route 8 west of the city and is owned by Destiny Christian Church, which uses 12 acres of a 42-acre parcel for its church facilities.
The land is zoned for low-density, single-family residential development, but the church is seeking a deal with developers who want to construct an apartment complex on the site’s 30 vacant acres, which would require a medium-density zoning designation.
Thomas argued such a project, combined with the new high school, would strain traffic on the already congested Route 8 corridor and would impact the school’s ability to run smoothly.
But Capital School Board Vice President Thomas Keitel revealed the school system is troubled by the possible sale and development of the land because it had plans to purchase all or part of the site in the future.
“One of the things we did when we looked at this property is we talked to the then-pastor of the church and offered our willingness to negotiate the purchase of the land if they ever decided to sell it,” he said. “We weren’t holding our breath, but now that we’ve heard of this plan we’re very interested.”
Commissioner William J. DiMondi reminded Keitel that the planning commission has no authority to consider what negotiations the landowners did or did not enter into regarding the sale of their property.
The commission only can evaluate how proposed rezoning would impact the surrounding area, he said.
And though the city’s recently-approved 2008 Comprehensive Plan calls for the property to take on a medium-density designation in the future, most of the planning commissioners still were not supportive of the proposal.
Commissioner Michael von Reider said if the property were rezoned, the implications for traffic congestion on Route 8 would be substantial.
Von Reider would like more detailed information from the Delaware Department of Transportation on how they intend to improve traffic circulation in the area as development progresses.
“It’s as if we’re being asked tonight to approve a zoning density that we know will probably generate more traffic than current zoning density will allow, but without any benefit of knowing what DelDOT’s absolute total plans are for the roadway or how the traffic from this site will impact traffic on Route 8,” he said. “We’d be giving carte blanche to whatever they want to do without being really sure of the total impact on Route 8.”
The project’s developer argued that rezoning is the first step in the process, and DelDOT would have ample opportunity to review plans for the project and impose requirements for road improvements before any construction begins.
“I think we’re likely to be part of fixing the problem or else DelDOT won’t allow us to develop. That’s been my experience with other projects, whether it’s stop lights or road widening or what have you,” said W. Blair Rinnier, vice president of Salisbury, Md., firm Rinnier Development Company, which is working with the church.
Von Reider said that with more information on the traffic issue he may be persuaded to vote to rezone the property at a lower density than the developer desires.
Planning Director Ann Marie Townshend explained the commission needs to follow the zoning recommendations outlined in the Comprehensive Plan, but that there are other, less dense zoning designations that still qualify as medium density.
Rinnier seemed cool to the idea of a lower density zoning designation, but indicated he would continue to work toward a compromise with the city planning staff.
“The thing that is important to us is building apartments, that’s what our project is. If we went to [a less-dense designation] it would substantially affect how many apartments we could build and the finances of the project,” he said.
After indicating to Rinnier that his project’s finances were of little concern to the commission, von Reider moved to table the rezoning application pending the receipt of more information on possible traffic plans. The motion, which carried unanimously, also stipulated that the planning staff explore other less-dense zoning designations for the site.
In other business…
The commission voted unanimously to approve plans for six new apartment buildings at the Woodmill apartment complex on Commerce Way. The project will include 216 units as well as a new dog park, playground and walking paths.
Email Doug Denison at email@example.com.