Lewes planners tackle lot coverage on beach properties
The Lewes Planning Commission recommends that the maximum lot coverage for properties within the defined excellent recharge area be capped at 50 percent.
The proposed ordinance would apply to all properties – regardless of zoning – in the overlap area, which includes much of Lewes Beach and most of Gills Neck Road.
The existing ordinance, which was passed in 2008, allows for up to 20 percent lot coverage on all properties within the Excellent Recharge Zone, as defined by the state. Applicants can increase lot coverage to 50 percent with an environmental impact assessment report that shows post-development water recharge will not be less than pre-development recharge.
The proposed ordinance eliminates the environmental impact report, but requires all driveways, sidewalks, patios and decks to be made of permeable siding or materials.
Commission chairman Drew McKay said it was time for the city to figure out how to protect the area and prevent problems in the future.
“It’s not a 2100 problem; it’s a 2021 problem, ”he said.
The latest version of the ordinance recommended by members of the planning committee is different from what they considered a month ago. This iteration increased the maximum lot coverage to 60 percent with the implementation of at least three runoff reduction practices, such as a green roof, rain barrels, rain gardens or a permeable pavement.
After hearing from environmental experts at a joint March 29 workshop with the mayor and city council, commissioners determined that 60 percent was too much coverage. At a meeting on April 1, many members of the planning committee expressed concern that even 50 percent coverage of the lots made them uncomfortable, but they still agreed to d ‘go forward.
The vote was 7-2, with Commissioners John Nehrbas and Melanie Moser each voting against, but for totally opposite reasons.
Nehrbas has expressed his dissent because he believes the proposed ordinance is too restrictive and that landowners should be allowed to institute runoff reduction practices to increase lot coverage.
Moser objected because she believes 50 percent lot coverage is too much without requiring additional offsets for water runoff.
Commission Vice-Chair Kay Carnahan said the latest version of the order is much better than what has been proposed previously and what is currently on the books.
“It’s a much fairer approach,” she said. “It’s thoughtful and helps homeowners understand how their property works and what they need to do to live in harmony with it. ”
Experts provide information
City officials called in two experts to brief the mayor, city council and planning commission on state source protection regulations. They also provided a history of how excellent charging areas were developed in the early 2000s.
Steve Smailer, program director for the Water Division of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, worked for the department in 1996 when Congress passed amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. He then worked as a senior hydrologist with the state to develop a source water protection plan which was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1999. Elements of this plan became the Source Water Protection Act of the United States. State which was adopted in 2001.
State law requires all jurisdictions with 2,000 residents or more to pass an ordinance that addresses excellent charging areas; however, what is in each city’s ordinance belongs to city officials.
“Its intention was to provide municipalities with the necessary resources to adopt the protective measures themselves,” he said. “The legislator did not give the DNREC the power to issue protective orders. DNREC provides the tools and information to municipalities to do this.
During this same period, A. Scott Andres, hydrologist with the Delaware Geological Survey since 1984, worked to identify source water protection and excellent recharge areas statewide. The maps were completed and published in 2004.
“I have reviewed the work I have done for the Lewes / Cap Henlopen project area and see no reason to change the lines on the map at this point,” he said.
He said the source water protection and the excellent recharge areas were done separately and are not necessarily directly related to each other.
Recharge zones are designed to manage water resources as a whole, while source water protection aims to maintain the water quality of a municipality’s drinking water wells.
“What happens on the beach side has no impact on your wellhead area,” said Andres. “I would argue that it is not appropriate to regard these two areas as equivalent or to regard the protection of the recharge on the beach side as less important than the protection of your well. You protect different assets in your city for different timescales.
Andres said the town’s excellent recharging area keeps the salt water below Lewes Beach at bay.
“The problem on the east side of the canal is to maintain the pressure of the fresh water to keep the salt water from getting under your island,” he said. “The other problem is the management of storm water. You don’t want to pave everything or you are going to have a lot of runoff which will have a huge impact on public and private infrastructure. “
Sea level rise is also a factor, he said, with sea level rising by around 2-3 millimeters per year. A well near the Lewes Public Library has collected data for the past 25 years, showing a significant increase in the water table half a mile inland.
“As the sea level rises, the water table will rise,” said Andres. “This is going to have a profound effect on Lewes and all of Delaware’s coastal communities. What will happen over time is that you will lose the amount of soil storage volume available to you for short term events. [like coastal storms or lunar tides], and finally, if the sea level rises as expected by 2100, there will be no more land anyway. You have a long-term planning horizon where you have far bigger issues to deal with than groundwater recharge. ”
At the April 1 planning committee meeting, the commissioners also made recommendations that would apply to the entire city. Unanimous recommendation was received to encourage municipal authorities to use permeable coverings / materials for roads, sidewalks and parking lots where possible. City Engineer Charlie O’Donnell said porous asphalt streets typically cost 37 to 60 percent more than traditional pavements.
The commissioners also unanimously supported a recommendation encouraging all residents to use stormwater reduction practices to do their part to avoid problems.
McKay called the recommendations ambitious, but many members of the planning committee said they would like to revisit the issue to consider similar land cover measures across the city.