About 130 residents attended the Smyrna Board of Adjustment meeting to oppose the project.

The Smyrna Board of Adjustment unanimously denied a proposal for 384 apartments on Brenford and Rabbit Chase roads on Wednesday, after a public hearing attended by about 130 residents at Smyrna High School.

Worthingcap LLC, whose principal owner is Louis Capano, had requested a special exception on about 37 acres of the Worthington subdivision to change the original plans for 151 units with a mix of single-family homes and duplexes.

The new proposal was for 16 three-story apartment buildings, each with 24 units, in response to the growing demand for apartments in the area, said John Tracey, the attorney representing Worthingcap LLC.

“We recognized a shift in the marketplace and revisited a portion of the project that was not yet under construction,” said Tracey. “This would be a high-quality product with variety of roof lines, brick and siding, not a rectangular box just stuck here.”

The apartments would comply with the town’s recent changes in its comprehensive plan for higher-density developments to have enhanced landscaping, open space and recreational amenities, along with buildings with varying roof lines and parking areas shielded from the roads by the buildings. The amenities would include a clubhouse, pool, walking paths, benches and gazebos, Tracey said.

The apartments would not be subsidized or “Section 8” apartments, he said.

Rent would be $995 for one bedroom, $1,125 for two bedrooms, and $1,325 for three bedrooms, with two residents allowed per bedroom, according to Christie Haupt, property manager for Capano Residential Leasing Division. She said applicants for the apartments would have to have excellent credit history, excellent rental history, no criminal history, verify employment and meet minimum income requirements.

The apartments would have on-site management by Capano Residential which currently manages about 3,400 units, Tracey said.

DelDOT is already planning improvements on Brenford and Rabbit Chase roads including wider lanes with shoulders and a bike lane, said Mike Riemann, project engineer. He said DelDOT has ruled that the planned improvements are still valid and that no further traffic study was planned because of the proposed change from 151 units to 384 apartments.

The plan would also have to meet the fire code requirements of the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the requirements for storm water management of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, he said.

Tracey said the criteria for a special exception include considering potential traffic increase, additional parking requirements, potential nuisance to surrounding properties, economic impact on surrounding properties, suitability with surrounding properties, and increased pedestrian traffic.

He said the proposed apartments are consistent with the existing residential area and that the location near single-family homes and townhomes is consistent with examples throughout the town.

“This town does not isolate its apartment communities,” Tracey said.

The apartments shouldn’t have an impact on surrounding property values because of the high quality of the buildings with on-site management, he said.

As far as traffic impact, Brenford and Rabbit Chase roads are already planned to be upgraded, he said, because of the current and planned residential construction in the area including the 151 residential units originally planned for this property.

OPPOSITION TO THE PLAN

After the presentation, the Board of Adjustment members asked questions and allowed all residents who wanted to comment on the project to speak one-by-one at the podium. No one spoke in favor of the plan.

About 20 residents opposed the plan. Increased traffic was one of the concerns.

“You talk about improvements being made near the development, but what about down by Route 13 and the increase in traffic at the light? We’re noticing that already,” said Barbara Lyons-Dillie.

Residents also brought up concerns about parking, the number of exits, pedestrian safety, the impact on schools, the number of pets, drainage, utilities, emergency services, and the effect on the environment.

One of the main reasons cited by residents opposing the plan, though, was the change to apartments after what had originally been planned as single-family homes and duplexes. Many of the speakers said they would not have bought their homes in the area if they had known that apartments would be built nearby because of the increased density of people living in the area which would lead to higher crime rates and lower property values, they said.

“We bought our house to get away from apartments,” said Meghan Tharp. “Our homeowners association doesn’t allow more than a three-foot fence, but they want to put up three-story buildings right across from us?”

Another concern that was repeated by most of the speakers was that the developer of the apartments is the same developer who they said hasn’t finished the promised amenities and improvements in their nearby communities. One of the main complaints is that the top coat of pavement hasn’t been done on many streets, leaving raised manhole covers to maneuver around.

“We're having a hard time understanding why the builder would be granted permission to build an entirely new apartment complex when the communities of Worthington, and I believe Willow Wood, are not yet completed,” said Simone Marie George. “Our roads have yet to be paved and there is ongoing construction of new homes as well as vacant lots. We think it would be more beneficial to the town and its residents if the developer were to channel its resources into completion of the communities that are already established.

State Rep. Trey Paradee (D – 29th District) said Capano’s track record of responding to residents’ concerns in the Willow Wood and Worthington developments is “deplorable.”

THE VOTE

The Board of Adjustment voted 4-0 to deny the special exception request for the apartments, with board members Alan Robinson, James Veit, and James Cubbage joining board chairman Rodney Slaughter in the unanimous decision.

Robinson said the board has to consider whether the project is likely to significantly impair adjacent properties. He listed areas that would be negatively affected by the addition of apartments including an increase in vehicle traffic, pedestrian traffic and parking problems, along with the economic effect on surrounding property values because apartments weren’t in the original plan.

Veit listed increased traffic and the detrimental effect on surrounding property values as reasons for his opposition.

Cubbage said the proposed apartments “are not in harmony” with the surrounding properties, and cited “major traffic concerns” along with parking concerns and the increased density of people living in a small area.

Traffic and property values were issued listed by Slaughter in his vote against the project, along with a need for the developer to work more closely with the town to resolve the issues that residents have in the existing communities in the subdivision.

REACTION

The board’s vote drew applause from the audience.

“I’m excited. I’m so appreciative they took the time to listen to everyone’s views and concerns,” said Meghan Tharp.

“I think it’s the right decision,” said David Wiley. “Capano hasn’t finished our communities so why should he be allowed to start something else?”

Maurice Byrd said he appreciated the process the board went through at the meeting.

“They went by the book through all the presentations and heard the concerns of the community residents,” Byrd said. “I just don’t know why he (Capano) can’t find some other location where he can build apartments besides right in the middle of these neighborhoods that are supposed to be single family homes and townhomes.”

WHAT'S NEXT?

See more details about this story in the Nov. 25 issue of the Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times newspaper.