Riverplace apartments expansion plan could double size of project

By Lynn R. Parks

A gated apartment complex planned for the banks of the Nanticoke River in the heart of downtown Seaford could be twice as large as originally expected. The city council last week approved preliminary plans for a third building for the Residences at Riverplace, which would have as many living units as the first two buildings combined.

The complex is planned for the intersection of North and Water streets, just east of the Market Street drawbridge that crosses the Nanticoke.

Buildings one and two will be built parallel to Water Street, along the river. Combined, they will have 72 units. Construction there is expected to start shortly, building official Josh Littleton told council members during last week's public hearing on the expanded project.

Building three, with 73 units, would be built along North Street, backing up to Williams Pond. Plans also call for a 1,000-square foot community center.

Developers of the complex are negotiating the purchase of the property from landowner Nanticoke Memorial Hospital. While those negotiations are ongoing, the hospital agreed to allow the developers to pursue preliminary site plan approval from the city.

The land now stands empty except for an old gravel parking lot toward its river end. A row of trees borders the property along the pond edge.

The city's canoe launch, near where the pond empties into the river, sits at the edge of the land. It will remain where it is; the developer plans to put in two parking spaces next to the launch.

As did the first two buildings, this building as designed will need variances from the city building code. Those variances can be granted by the city council.

The proposed building would by taller than is allowed by the city's C-3 Riverfront Development Zone. That zoning regulation says that buildings can be no more than 50 feet tall; this building, with five stories plus ground-level parking, would be 75 feet above ground nearest the river, 60 feet above ground nearest Middleford Road.

The two original buildings will be 59 feet tall.

The code calls for no more than 25 living units per acre and 25 units per building. This building, with 73 units, would have 36.8 units per acre.

And finally, the third building as designed would not have as many parking places as required by the zoning law.

The design calls for 86 parking spaces, or 1.18 per unit. Code requires two spaces per unit. The first two apartment buildings will have 1.5 spaces per unit.

While they didn't comment on the building height or the density, members of the city council dug in their heels when it came to the parking requirement. When Brock Parker, civil engineer for the project, said that the developers hoped to be able to include street parking in its parking space count, councilwoman Pat Jones reminded him that many people use the city's fishing pier, which in all of this construction will be moved to nearer the drawbridge. Those people will need that street parking, she said.

"I think that you need to keep that in mind," she added.

Parker said that the design could eliminate the community building and use that space for parking. "But would that be a better plan for the residents? We don't think so," he said.

In the end, councilwoman Leanne Phillips-Lowe's motion to approve the preliminary plans included the stipulation that the developer find a way to include additional parking spaces in his plan so that the whole complex has one and a half parking spaces per apartment. She suggested that the developer could purchase or lease additional land to be used for parking.

The third Residences at Riverplace building still needs a final approval from the city council. It will also need approvals from the state's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, fire marshal's office and Office of Drinking Water and from the Sussex County Conservation District.

Because the building site has tidal wetlands on it, the project could also require a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, Littleton said.

Two other developments have been proposed for this property. In 2005, the city council gave preliminary approval for construction of a 52-unit condominium community. Final plans for that development were approved in 2007, but nothing ever came of it.

In 2001, the property was the site of a proposed library, to replace the Seaford District Library then on Porter Street. But the high cost of the waterfront property generated complaints from the community and the new library was eventually built in the Ross Business Park.

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