Area is buzzing after news of complex project surfaces

By Lynn R. Parks

Reports in newspapers and on television and radio about a 400-acre sports complex and theme park planned for between Laurel and Seaford have both communities buzzing. But neither of the developers who are reportedly involved in the project, Preston Schell of Schell Construction, Rehoboth Beach, and David Horsey, Laurel, is talking. Horsey, who did not return requests for comment, is owner of a sand and gravel company. He recently organized a raffle of a motorcycle and truck to benefit Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Seaford, and he and his wife Pat are benefactors of the Horsey Family Youth Foundation Fund through the Delaware Community Foundation. Schell said through a spokeswoman that he preferred to make no public statement until after meetings concerning the development can be held. Until that time, "there are probably more questions than answers," the spokeswoman said. Despite the lack of detail about the project, people are already forming opinions of it. "People I have talked to are 3-to-1 in favor of it," said John Shwed, mayor of Laurel. "They are excited about what could go in there, because they could use it. And it is kind of exciting to think about that kind of development in our little area. A lot of people want to go to a theme park; why not go to one north of Laurel?" According to reports, the development is planned for land along U.S. 13, near the site of an old drive-in theater. Bob Swift, regional sales manager for the Utz food distribution center near the abandoned drive-in, said that the property on which the Utz facility is located is not included in the project. "They are talking about the land along the side and behind us," he said. Shwed said that the property is farmland.
According to reports, included in the development would be a 5,000-seat stadium with soccer, lacrosse and baseball fields, an amusement park and a retail complex featuring mainly sporting goods stores. The retail complex could be as large as 200,000 square feet and could include an IMAX theater. When fully developed, the project could mean thousands of jobs to the area, between 5,000 and 7,000, Shwed said. They would be retail-based, he added. Peggy Geisler, director of the Boys and Girls Club of Western Sussex in Seaford and Laurel, said that Horsey approached her about possibly using the club's fields in Seaford for sports tournaments centered at the complex. "When you are talking about holding huge tournaments, you need a lot of space," she said. Geisler added that she did not know enough detail about the proposed project to make a judgment about it. "It may have the potential to be a good thing for the community, but I am being cautious and want to wait for more information," she said. Among hurdles faced by the development is state approval. Gov. Minner's Livable Delaware, the administration's guide to growth in the state, prefers that growth be in "areas where the state, counties and local governments are most prepared for it in terms of infrastructure investment and thoughtful planning." "Obviously what has been proposed is very big and very expansive," said Greg Patterson, spokesman for Gov. Minner. "We will wait to see if it gets past the nascent stage before addressing it in the context of Livable Delaware." While all development cannot be confined to town limits, Patterson said, in general "the closer to town the better, in areas that are prepared for [growth]." The proposed development site is about a mile north of the town's growth area boundary as established in its state-mandated comprehensive plan, certified by the governor's office in April 2004. It is also on the east side of U.S. 13; the Laurel town boundary does not extend across the highway. Annexation of the site into the town would require annexation of some land between it and the current town boundary. State law requires that new annexations be contiguous to the town. Shwed called all talk about the project's use of town water and wastewater facilities "theoretical." The town has not received any annexation request from the developers. In addition, the town, without engineering plans for the projects, cannot know whether the town's systems could supply the development or not, he said. Laurel is struggling with aging infrastructure. Its wastewater treatment plant dumped millions of gallons of partially-treated waste into the Broad Creek in November. The town is planning construction of a new $6.5 million wastewater treatment plant, which town manager Glenn Steckman said should be complete in late summer or early fall of next year. That plant will be able to handle 750,000 gallons of waste a day; the current plant handles about 300,000 gallons of waste a day. Shwed said that, if the developers request annexation, the town will have to look at its water and wastewater systems to determine if they are adequate. If not, "we will have to hold discussions to see if they are willing to pay for upgrades," he added. "We won't do anything at the expense of people who live here," Shwed said. "Anything we do will be done in conjunction with the developers." Shwed, who first learned of the plans April 22, cautioned that there are still a lot of "what ifs" in connection with the project. If all permits are OK'd, it could be 18 months to two years before start of construction, he said.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.