Two weeks ago, the Milford City Council voted to take the developer of Hearthstone Manor to court.

Two weeks ago, the Milford City Council voted to take the developer of Hearthstone Manor to court.

This week, it gave developer Key Properties the chance to do the same to it.

According to City Manager David Baird, representatives of Key Properties claim that the city had no legal basis to reject the Hearthstone Manor II development’s final site plan on November 24, 2008, and have threatened to sue to have the decision reversed if the council would not change its mind.

At its Feb. 23 meeting, the council decided not to vote again, leaving the matter in Key Properties’ hands.

“In my opinion, this has been done, it’s over, and I think the court system should handle it,” council member James Oechsler said.

In November, the council voted 4-3 to reject Hearthstone II’s final site plan, citing the development’s lack of sidewalks, low percentage of open space and few parking spaces. Representatives of the developer argued that since all of those issues were present in the preliminary plan the council approved in 2006, with no direction to fix them, there was no legal basis to reject the final plan.

City Solicitor Tim Willard said the developer at least has a case.

“The law appears to favor the landowner if there’s no clear deviation from the statute,” Willard said.

There was no discussion of the merits of the development, with most council members who weighed in saying they’d already hashed out where everyone stood.

“We’ve discussed this and discussed this and discussed this,” said council member and Vice Mayor Katrina Wilson, who presided over the meeting since Mayor Dan Marabello was too sick to attend. “In my opinion, if we’re ready, we should take a vote and approve this or disapprove this.”

But it never even came up for a vote. Only a council member who originally voted against the project is allowed to bring it up for reconsideration, and none of the four “no” votes from last November – Oechsler, Owen Brooks, John Workman and Mike Spillane – would switch sides.

Even if there had been a vote, with all four council members who voted “no” present and unwilling to switch, the best-case scenario for Hearthstone would have been a 4-4 tie. But with the mayor home sick, there could be no tiebreaker vote. Under the charter, a deadlocked council is the same as a “no.”

Key Properties attorney Jim Griffin said he wasn’t certain where he would go from there.

“We’ll probably want to talk about it and see where to go from here,” he said.
Silicato development gets final OK

The council gave final site-plan and conditional-use approval for three businesses slated to build at the corner of Route 1 and 10th Street: A Kids Cottage daycare center, a Comfort Inn and a Royal Farms convenience store, gas station and car wash.

All three votes were 7-1 in favor, with Spillane dissenting each time. He said he didn’t feel comfortable putting small children so close to a major highway, and voted against the hotel and gas station because he said they would pose more danger to the children at Kids Cottage.

Before discussion began, Spillane said he had been threatened with legal action if he cast a vote either way. He did not comment on the exact nature of the alleged problem, but said he didn’t think it should bar him from voting.

City Solicitor Tim Willard agreed.

“I don’t think he has the problem stated in that correspondence, that he would need to recuse himself,” Willard said.

Tax cut for seniors approved

Council unanimously passed an extension of the city’s tax-reduction policy for the elderly. Starting with taxes assessed in 2009, anyone over age 65 with an annual income, not counting Social Security or railroad pensions, of $15,000 or less, or couples with an income of $25,500 or less, will see a property tax reduction of $92 a year. The limits were raised from $10,000 and $17,000, respectively.

“I know that ($92) may not seem like much, but I know that at least one of the constituents I’ve spoken to has told me that every little bit, even $92, can make a big difference,” council member Irvin Ambrose said. Hearthstone swales

still under discussion

At the end of the workshop session, City Manager David Baird presented a summary of the conflict over a row of steep drainage swales at Hearthstone Manor’s Clearview Drive.

The only new information that came out in the discussion is that the engineering firm Davis, Bowen & Friedel has not been able to produce records of its inspections of the Hearthstone project. The council had hoped to use those records to determine exactly when plans for swales on Clearview drive were switched to the extremely steep design that residents have complained about.

“They indicated they did not have that information, as far as field inspection reports,” Baird said.

DBF was in charge of checking the details of the Hearthstone plans when the development was under review. If the designs submitted to and approved by the city council were already steeper than the laws normally allow, then that counts as the council issuing a variance, and the design is legal.

“I don’t blame the developer,” Hearthstone resident Charles Campbell said during the meeting’s public comment session. “The developer only did what the city allowed him to do.”

Baird advised against taking the matter to court.

“To me, the best way to handle this is to sit down and come to some sort of compromise,” Baird said. “In my opinion, to litigate this, with the responsibility falling on both sides, is not in the city’s best interests.”

Council approves $500,000 in spending

In a series of 8-0 votes, the council approved a $375,000 contribution to Downtown Milford, Inc.’s streetscape project, as discussed and voted on in the Feb. 9 meeting. The city’s contribution was required in order to make DMI eligible for $250,000 in state funds.

The council also approved a $211,000 on infiltration and inflow into the city’s sewer system. The study is the first step toward reducing the amount of outside water that mixes with sewage, dramatically increasing the amount of liquid that flows through Milford’s sewers every year – and which the city has to pay Kent County to treat. City public works officials estimate that I&I cost the public from $500,000 to $600,000 a year.

Money for the study will come from the $15 million bond referendum the city passed in 2008.

City will pursue stimulus money

Finally, the council voted 8-0 to apply for federal stimulus money through the Delaware Drinking Water Revolving Fund. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes more than $10 million for the Delaware state government to fund local infrastructure projects, and the city can, if its application is successful, use some of that money to repair and rehabilitate its water towers and the water treatment plant on Washington Street, both of which are in need of rehabilitation, Baird said.