Cape Gazette
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Panel approves townhouse project in Lewes

Public hearing slated to consider hold on future applications
By Nick Roth | Jan 24, 2014
Courtesy of: Cliff Diver Lewes businessman Cliff Diver has been granted permission to move forward with an eight-unit townhouse project at the corner of Savannah Road and Massachusetts Avenue in Lewes.

Lewes businessman Cliff Diver has received the go ahead to build an eight-unit townhouse complex on land that was previously home to the Lewes Post Office annex.

The board of adjustment approved a special exception Jan. 21 for townhouses at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Savannah Road in the city's marine commercial district. Diver said he hopes the townhouses will be under construction as soon as possible.

“There's nothing holding us up except permits,” Diver said. “Financing is in line and squared to go. It'd be nice to be under construction in the spring.”

Diver's plan is to build two four-unit buildings back to back with a quiet garden or courtyard in the middle. Each unit will be about 2,400 square feet with a French balcony overlooking the garden area and a one-car garage. He expects half of the units to have elevators.

The townhouses will be geared toward full-time residents looking to buy rather than someone searching for a property to rent.

Local Realtor Lee Ann Wilkinson spoke in favor of the Diver's project. She said Diver's plan will attract a different group of buyers, older Lewes residents who no longer wish to maintain their yard, home and property.

Council reconsiders exceptions

Lewes Mayor and City Council will hold a public hearing Thursday, Feb. 13, regarding a proposed moratorium on future applications for a special exception in the marine commercial district. Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said she is concerned council opened the door to development it may not want when it voted to allow special exceptions in May 2013.

“Our experience so far has shown they have unleashed quite an explosion of townhouses in the marine commercial district,” she said. “I personally think we need to take a breather and take a good look at this. I'm not prejudging whether townhouses are the way to go or not; I don't know.”

In addition to Diver's project, the board of adjustment also approved a plan by Virginia-based developer Evergreene Companies Inc. to build nine townhouses in two buildings at the corner of Savannah and Angler's roads. Other developers have expressed interest in building in the marine commercial zone, Osler said.

“I personally would like more of a record before we go down this path in what is a very important part of Lewes down to our public beach,” she said.

Speaking in front of the board of adjustment, Wilkinson said the special exception has boosted interest from potential buyers in that zone. She's personally seen the effect on a piece of property she's had on the market for many years.

“I couldn't sell it because it didn't make sense,” she said. “It was for sale for four years or something like that until the special exception came along. Then somebody right away wanted to do something.”

What often turned people away, she said, was a commercial and residential mix requirement that forced developers to have commercial space on the ground floor. That is the case at the Captain's Quarters and Safe Harbor condos, both built prior to the special exception. Wilkinson said it is difficult to rent the first-floor commercial units at both places.

“It's hard for people to make it work,” she said. “There's just not enough foot traffic going by there to make it work. Everybody wants to be on Second Street because people walk by.”

Osler proposed a hold on all applications for nine months while mayor and council reconsider whether that is the path they wish to take. A resolution to hold a public hearing on the matter was unanimously approved by mayor and council.

“The marine commercial district was originally adopted according to the code to further our core value with the sea,” she said. “I'm not sure that this townhouse approach is consistent with that.”

The townhouse complex will be split into two four-unit buildings. (Courtesy of: Cliff Diver)
A pencil drawing shows the layout of the townhouse project. (Courtesy of: Cliff Diver)
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