Developers of housing project request support from town of Laurel

By Tony E. Windsor

Developers of a housing project that started 14 years ago, but was halted when the economy took a downturn in 2008, are asking for support from the town of Laurel in plans to move forward and make completion.

During the Monday, Nov. 19, meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council, Randy Radish, member of the limited liability corporation which is building the Villas on Broadcreek, came to seek relief from two town fees, one of which was not in effect at the time the project started and the other that has as much as tripled.

The Villas on Broadcreek, located along the creek near the Laureltowne development, began planning in 2004 and construction in 2005. With a plan to construct 10 units to join the existing Villas that were completed earlier, work began. However, when the country faced an economic downturn attributed to the housing market, all work ceased. Developers were unable to build the units and gain profit from sales due to the critical housing market situation.

In 2017, developers made application to the Delaware Housing Authority in an attempt to have the project included in the new state designation "Downtown Development District," which provides special development incentives for projects helping to revitalize the downtown area of the community. The DDD provides opportunity for developers to be reimbursed for as much as 20 percent of costs associated with construction, which helps give the project enhanced opportunity for profits.

After missing a deadline for application in 2017, developers again applied and this year received the DDD designation. Now in an attempt to maximize the scope of the project, developers have scaled down on the size of the planned units and instead opted to build additional units. Radish said the revision will not lessen the quality and aesthetics of the units.

"We have diligently, and successfully been working on and receiving the town's approval to increase our project size from 18 units to 20 units and redesigning the units to be less in square footage, while still maintaining the overall exterior appearance," he said. "We can sell these units at $235,000 and maintain the quality and look of the project; however, it results in making zero profit; basically selling them at cost.

This is where the Downtown Development District program kicks in to help us gain some money back."

Thus far, Radish said all plans are moving forward and developers are currently awaiting approval of the Delaware Department of Transportation and Sussex County Soil Conservation.

"We are committed to the completion of the Villas on Broadcreek as it will bring closure to take an unsightly property formally known as 'The Old Cannery Building,' and in its place provide a fresh and beautiful look to the banks of the Broadcreek," Radish said.

In an effort to find ways to help make the development project more economically viable, Radish went on to say that Villas on Broadcreek developers would like to request to the town that they be waived two fees, one being the one percent new construction fee, which in all would add an additional $1,700 to each unit.

The other involves the water and sewer connection fees that as assessed currently have doubled and tripled respectively since the project began.

Radish said since 2008 the water connection fees have gone from $500 per unit to $1,000 and sewer connection fees from $650 to $2,000. Radish said the town's new construction and utility connection fees would add an additional $15,000 to each of the 10 units being planned for construction.

In closing, Radish told the council that in an effort to maximize the opportunity gained from the DDD process, developers are considering to permit all 10 units at one time. This, he said, would bring $115,000 in permit fees to the town. "That's a lot of money coming into the town at one time," he said.

Laurel Mayor John Shwed offered the only comment from the council in response to Radish's request for fee relief. He asked Town Manager Jamie Smith, "Was this company provided the town's fee structure at the time it applied for the Downtown Development District designation?"

Shwed thanked Radish for the presentation and said the council would be forthcoming with a decision.

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