Discovery Place plans are ended

By Frank B. Calio

"We've put an end to Discovery Place as we had planned." Those were the words spoken by David G. Horsey, one of the principals in the project, in an exclusive interview with the Star. Then he announced that the developers will proceed with a much scaled-down version of the project. Originally, the $500 million development on 500 acres on the north edge of Laurel called for a million square feet of retail space, an amusement park, a hotel with an indoor water park, 1,400 homes, a 12,000-seat sports arena, a 6,000-seat baseball stadium, an equestrian center, 12 soccer fields, nine baseball fields, six volleyball courts and a free-standing firehouse. That plan is history, according to Horsey, owner of David G. Horsey and Sons, and his partner Preston Schell, president of Ocean Atlantic Associates. Reasons given by Horsey include the developers' inability to purchase 381 acres of land which was slated for the sporting complexes and which was sold to another developer, and the pending lawsuit by the Sussex County Organization to Limit Development Mistakes, SCOLDM. The large parcel was owned by Glenn Jones. Rrepresentatives for Discovery said that the Horsey group had paid for an option on that land as well as the other parcels needed for the project that were annexed by the town of Laurel. After months of packed public hearings and controversy over the possible annexation of the land, most of which is farmland, the town annexed the land in January 2007. Groundbreaking was supposed to be the following spring and the project was expected to take 10 years. SCOLDM filed its lawsuit in Chancery Court the morning before the annexation was approved by the town. The lawsuit states that the town did not follow proper procedures in the annexation process and demanded that the process be started over. Because they did not have proper legal representation, members of SCOLDM were advised by New Castle County attorney Rich Abbott, a well-known land-use attorney whom they contacted after filing the suit, to withdraw it. Then they hired Abbott and the lawsuit was refiled shortly thereafter by Rick and Lisa Culver and John and Sylvia Brohawn, organizers of SCOLDM. The second suit claims that the town did not follow its own charter, which, the suit says, states the property owners themselves must request annexation. On the other hand, the town believes that Discovery, with proxies from the land owners, had a right to represent those parcels and request annexation. Laurel Mayor John Shwed said he believes the town was correct in its actions to annex. "During the annexation process, which was widely publicized, I never had one of the property owners whose land was to be annexed come before me or the council saying they did not want to be annexed into town," he said. The court is expected to give a ruling sometime in January. Both sides believe they will win. If the court rules against the town, it is possible that the town could begin the process over again, according to the interpretation of the court. Horsey claims that money to develop the project was available from banking institutions until the suit was filed. "Then the money went away," he said. Property owner Glenn Jones said that the Discovery group did not pick up the option on his 381 acres. He claims he and Horsey tried to reach an agreement for an extension but could not. Jones then listed the property with Laurel Realty. Michael Pouls of Samanda Properties LLC, Gladwyn, Pa., then signed a contract to purchase the property. He plans to go to settlement this month. Pouls said that he had told Laurel Realty he was interested in land near Laurel, and when Jones listed his property, Pouls said the realty company called. He said he liked what he saw and purchased the land. Pouls is not a newcomer to land purchase in this area. He purchased 75 acres two years ago on land situated between Holly Brook Apartments and the former Discount Land building; that land has since been annexed by the town.

Pouls plans to build an active adult community of 361 townhouses, houses and duplexes, hopefully breaking ground next spring depending on the health of the housing market. The project is called Village Brooke West. Pouls is also in negotiations with the town to annex 76 acres along Discount Land Road, east of US 13 in Laurel, for another 250 units, all duplexes. That project would be called Village Brooke East. When asked about his plans for the Jones property, Pouls said he attempted to strike a deal with Discovery. Horsey stated during the interview that he was not interested in what Pouls was offering. Pouls said that he will go to the town council and ask for recommendations for use of the property.

Disappointment and elation
The decision to scale back the Discovery Project has met with mixed reactions. Mayor Shwed said he was disappointed in the decision. "I thought it was an interesting project," Shwed said. He declined to comment further until he heard from Horsey regarding his plans. Earlier during the planning process, Shwed said he supported the development because it would help Laurel's economy. The Laurel area has one of the lowest household incomes in Delaware, almost $20,000 below the statewide average. W.D. (Bill) Whaley, an outspoken critic of the project and an organizer and spokesman for SCOLDM, issued the following statement: "The sun shines a little brighter in Sussex County today. The news of the demise of the Discovery Project is wonderful news and we hope we can put this hideous blight on our town and our county to rest in the deep grave it deserves. "The entire community owes a great debt of gratitude to the Brohawn and Culver families and the 130 or so courageous supporters who sacrificed so much to fight for their families and properties. We congratulate them and thank them for the new friendships that were spawned by the terrible circumstances they faced. They were treated like mosquitoes, but turned out to be eagles." Rick Culver, SCOLDM president, had this comment regarding the news of the Horsey decision: "I, too, would like to thank the members of the community that supported, and continue to support, SCOLDM and what our group stands for. Our community came together for a common cause – to preserve and protect the peaceful way of life we have become accustomed to, from unchecked and fiscally irresponsible over development. "The fight was and continues to be a community effort. The only way to keep overdevelopment from encroaching upon our neighborhood and destroying the way of life we have come to expect and enjoy is continued vigilance. Those in the government must be held responsible and accountable for the decisions they make that affect our lives and livelihood. I want to encourage everyone in the community to attend town meetings, to ask questions, and to research the issues. "Above all else, I encourage everyone to stand up and let their voices be heard."

Stores, housing still planned

The development was to be a destination for youth sporting events, complete with the two stadiums. Bobby Horsey, who served as project manager, said the loss of the large parcel eliminated all sport complexes, stadiums for sports and entertainment, non-profit centers, the fire house, 1.3 million square feet of retail space, hotels and the equestrian center. He said the Discovery Group has over $2.1 million invested in the project and had investors lined up to join in the project once the lawsuit was settled. Accommodation taxes from the hotels would have brought in thousands of dollars to the Laurel Chamber of Commerce. While many of the protesters at the town's public hearings claimed the sports complexes would not make a go, others disagreed. Pete Townsend, director of Sports at the Beach, a Georgetown facility that offers dormitories and fields for baseball and softball tournaments, drawing from all over the east coast, said there is plenty of demand for tournament hosting

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