Mayor Dan Marabello broke a 3-3 tie to decide against approving a five-lot commercial subdivision on June 24, but further review showed that the Milford City Council should never have seen the project in the first place, and the vote had no power. The council will review the development at a later stage.

The votes were in.

When debate ended on June 23, the Milford City Council had deadlocked, 3-3, on whether to allow a five-lot commercial subdivision down the street from Milford High School. Mayor Dan Marabello, casting the first tiebreaking vote of his term, came down on the “no” side, denying the application.

The only problem is that, under city law, none of it meant a thing.

Milford’s zoning code states the council doesn’t get to approve or deny subdivisions until the final plan is submitted, and Monday’s hearing was for a preliminary plan. The code gives the planning commission final say on preliminary applications, and the commission approved this one 5-2 at its May 20 meeting.

“We’re still trying to answer why this went to the council, and the only thing we can come up with is that, historically, things have been presented to city council,” incoming city manager David Baird said.

Marabello said the mistake should spur the government, including him, to make sure that it doesn’t do anything similar in future meetings.

“All I know is I am going to study the statutes with a fine-toothed comb, to make sure this won’t happen again,” he said.

The project in question was Dennis Silicato’s 15-acre commercial property along Route 1 near its intersection with 10th Street, across the road from the high school. According to engineer Randy Duplechain, Royal Farms, Grotto’s Pizza and Holiday Inn were already planning to build there.

Owen Brooks, Michael Spillane and John Workman voted against the subdivision, and Katrina Wilson, Irvin Ambrose and James Starling voted for it. Doug Morrow and Cliff Crouch were absent.

Debate centered on the amount of traffic that those properties would bring to 10th Street, and whether the Department of Transportation’s promise of a service road to take pressure off the street, along with a planned but still far-off overpass for Route 1 at 10th Street, could be reasonably expected to lighten the load.

“It’s a dangerous intersection already,” Brooks said. “I’ve got no problem with the project – I’m just worried about the traffic.”

Workman said he was set on having the service road be in place before any commercial development began. According to Duplechain, it can’t be built until DelDOT concludes negotiations with the nearby property owned by the McColley family.

“That service road was a key point…it had to be in place before you do anything out there,” Workman said. “If we’re going to base it on conditions today, (the overpass) is not going to happen.”

“We have no control what DelDOT does, but I am certain because of the previous meetings and notes that they are going to work with the developers and the city,” Wilson said.

“If you can give me a date when the overpass is going to be there, and the service road is going to be there, I’d vote ‘yes’ in a second,” Brooks said.

Marabello echoed Brooks’ sentiments, saying that ultimately concern for traffic safety, especially near the high school, had to come first.

“If we could improve (the traffic), I would vote yes, but as it is, I have to vote no,” he said.

“It was a hard decision for me to make. I was very concerned about the traffic.”

Later in the evening, the council approved the 2008-2009 budget by a 5-1 vote, with Spillane as the only “no,” citing uncertainty in police salaries, since negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police over a new contract have not concluded.

There was no change from the proposed budget presented in hearings at the beginning of the month, but it could still change – part of the approval is that the council will hold a public hearing on the budget within 30 days, and then vote at their next meeting whether or not to make any changes.

“I feel that this budget should have been open to the public. We did not have any public hearing, and I feel that we should have,” Workman said.

Ambrose, the chairman of the finance committee, said members of the public could have spoken with council members or city finance director Jeff Portmann after the budget hearings, but supported the proposal.

“This is a transparent process. I’ve always tried to make sure everyone knows what’s going on,” he said.

The hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Plans to start a regular 15-minute public comment period were delayed again, as the council is still waiting to see the rules for the session in writing.

“I think everybody wants it, we just need to get a format in place,” Workman said.

When it does start, the comment period will be held at the beginning of every council meeting, and allow anyone who signs up beforehand a chance to speak to the council on any topic from that night’s agenda or that they have discussed previously. Marabello promised he would have a copy of the sign-up sheet ready for the council to look over by the July 14 meeting.

Finally, two utility bills were introduced that would automatically raise development impact fees for water and electric service by 4 percent every year, starting this August. The current fees are $975 per development unit for water and $1,845 for electricity; with the risers, they would increase over the next 20 years to $2,136 and $4,043, respectively.

The water bill also includes the third part of a gradual sewer rate hike that began in 2006. If it’s approved, the fee for the first 1,000 gallons of sewer service will rise to $10, and the charge for every 1,000 gallons after that will increase by 10 cents to $2.43.

Both are scheduled for a vote on July 14.