I recently attended two meetings concerning the proposed Middletown Sports Complex at 955 Levels Rd, on the western edge of Middletown. The project is expected to be built on about 170 acres of land zoned as “Agricultural Protection” space.
The town Planning and Zoning Committee met on Thursday, June 18th to discuss whether to allow a “Conditional Use Permit” and to vote on recommending the preliminary plan to the Mayor and Council. On Wednesday, June 24th, the State Preliminary Land Use Service held a meeting to consider environmental, traffic, and emergency vehicle access issues.
At the P&Z meeting, Brian Ellis, one of the principals of the Middletown Sports Complex, accompanied by legal representation, was on hand to present the plans to the committee. He reported there were plans for 20 multi-use (soccer size) fields and tennis courts (it appears to be 5 tennis courts), as well as 16 baseball/softball fields. In addition there are plans to build two indoor facilities.
The larger of the two buildings was reported at the P&Z meeting as a 143,000 sq. ft. building. At the PLUS meeting, Scott Lobdell, also a partner, said the larger building would be 157,000 sq. ft. The second building was described by Lobdell as a 75,000 sq. ft. building. A later 3000-4000 seat stadium is being considered, and is on the current plan.
The plans call for 1500 parking spaces, 20 handicapped parking spaces, and 6 bus parking spaces. Several 24’ x 24’ buildings are planned as joint restroom/concession facilities. The parking lots will possibly be paved, or could remain stone lots.
The proposal calls for 3 phases of building. In Phase 1, the soccer and tennis facilities would be constructed, as the current business model suggests these will be most used in the early stages. Several soccer fields will be donated for use by the Delaware Union. Phase 2 will contain all the ball fields. It is currently unclear to me whether the indoor facilities are intended for Phase 1 or for Phase 2.
Phase 3 is for future use, and would likely include the stadium, if it is ever constructed.
The park is expected to be used daily.
After the presentation, committee members asked some questions of the owners. Chairperson Debra Sutton had concerns with drainage from paved parking lots, and suggested a more water permeable solution.
Robert Hutchinson expressed reservations about a jump from “Agricultural Preservation” land to a full commercial use. He asked about fencing between fields and surrounding farms, and whether dust would be an issue.
After the P&Z committee had their questions answered, the public was invited to speak. Several residents of the Estates at St. Anne’s were in attendance. The first few residents said they were excited about the plans for a sports complex and welcomed the additions.
The following residents expressed some concerns and had questions about a wide range of issues.
Traffic and related safety issues were a top concern. Earlier on Thursday evening we heard about a planned neighborhood north of St. Anne’s Church Rd. that will be known as The Preserve at Deep Creek. This proposed development will have, at its completion, 656 homes. The Estates at St. Anne’s, upon completion, is slated to have 465 homes. The Middletown Sports Complex will contain upwards of 1500 parking spaces, so there is a potential for increased traffic throughout the area. It was also mentioned that MOT Charter School, at the entrance to the Estates at St. Anne’s would also be expanding.
Town manager, Morris Deputy explained that a new road will be constructed from Merrimac Rd, near Amazon, through to St. Anne’s Church Rd., and that the new neighborhood at Deep Creek would have an entrance on that road as well as onto St. Anne’s Church Rd.
Levels Rd. has a planned widening from US 301 to Patriot Dr. In the PLUS meeting today, DelDOT suggested that may need to be expanded all the way to the Sports Complex entrance. The Town of Middletown (as per the P&Z meeting) and DelDOT (as per the PLUS meeting) are discussing the potential for a traffic light at St. Anne’s Church Rd. and Rt. 71 (Summit Bridge Rd.) as well as widening shoulders east of the railroad bridge on St. Anne’s Church Rd.
Several residents asked about turn lanes along Levels Rd., and one resident suggested dropping the speed limit to 25mph. Morris Deputy referred all such questions to DelDOT. Chairperson Sutton explained that all roads involved are DelDOT maintained roads, and the town has no say over the improvements.
Another concern was noise and light pollution in the evenings. Questions were raised about how late the complex would be open. The town said there are curfews in effect, and the owners said they would comply. The suggestion was for a 10:00pm finish on outdoor fields, and an 11:30pm-12:00am finish for indoor events.
When asked about directional lighting, the owners said that while no specific lights had been chosen, that the lights would definitely be directional and that no light would spill from the complex.
The question was raised about the spray irrigation fields just to the north of the proposed sports complex. At the P&Z meeting, the owners said the “effluence” would be sprayed directly on the fields. At the PLUS meeting, DNREC passed along a note saying that the spray irrigation fields would require natural barriers between the sports fields and the spray field. Scott Lobdell said that trees would be planted along the edge.
The final concern raised was about the nature of the 3 phase rollout, and whether future public input would be permitted. It was explained that once this project gets the go-ahead, as long as initial construction starts within 12 months, that the project would NOT be re-visited. This realization create a bit of concern, as residents say in 3-5 years the area could be different and need a second look before continuing development.
Phase 1 is planned to begin in Fall 2015 at the earliest to Spring 2016 at the latest, according to the owners, with Phase 2 beginning in Fall 2016. Phase 3 may not be for another 3-5 years.
When all questions were finished, and it came time to vote, the committee was reminded that two votes were required. The first vote was to be for a “conditional use permit” to allow the project to be built on “Agricultural Protection” lands. The second vote would be for recommending the plan to Mayor and Council.
On each vote, the tally was 4-1 in favor, with Robert Hutchinson voting in the negative on each proposal.
The plan now moves to the Mayor and Council for final approval, and is expected to appear on the agenda for the July 6, 2015 meeting.
At the PLUS meeting in Dover a few questions were presented to Scott Lobdell by representatives of various State agencies. One note, passed through a DNREC official, asked about the public vs. private nature of the facility. Scott Lobdell said they fields are public “in a way,” since leagues and tournaments will play games there. He then admitted that folks would likely have to pay to join the leagues since the leagues would have to pay for field access. Lobdell went on to say that, “unlike the Levels Road park, people would not be able to just show up and play.”