Newark’s parish line moved north Monday when the city council agreed to annex a horse farm on Paper Mill Road.
The vote limited a local attorney’s two-year efforts to annex his family’s farm to the city. The project was delayed by a debate about the proper reallocation of the property.
Max Walton, who often represents Newark in zoning disputes and other legal matters, asked the city to annex the 14.5-acre horse farm at 751 Paper Mill Road north of the intersection of Possum Park Road. His mother lives there, and Walton plans to build a second home for his family on the property so he can help them run the farm. He had to annex himself in Newark to use the city’s water and sewer services.
The annexation is the second phase in Walton’s plans. Since the farm did not border the city of Newark as required for annexation, he bought adjoining parcels on Possum Hollow Road to connect the farm to the city limits. Last year the city council agreed to annex this land and allow Walton to build 10 single-family homes there, against objections from several neighbors.
Walton said he has no plans to redevelop the farm and live there with his family and continue to run it as a farm. His mother keeps horses and chickens and he plans to start growing sweet potatoes this summer.
In order to continue farming once the land is annexed, the city had to change the zone code to allow agricultural use in residential areas as the city does not currently have a zone designation for arable land. (The University of Delaware has a large farm, but is exempt from most zoning laws.)
Last year, the city council rejected an initial version of the zoning changes on concerns that a developer might attempt to annex properties as farmland and then use the city’s more permissible zoning laws to develop the properties at a higher density than this Allowable in New would be Castle County jurisdiction.
The planning department then devised a way to avoid this possibility by creating a new residential zone called “Housing Development” which requires a plot of land of one hectare.
“It kind of protects against a bait-and-switch scenario that the council was concerned about,” said city planner Mike Fortner. “Someone is not going to come in with a farm and get RE zoning and have an acre of development potential. That’s likely very similar to what they’re going to get in the county, so there’s no incentive to annex it. “
Another change enables agricultural use – including the cultivation and sale of plants and the rearing of livestock – within a residential zone, provided the city council approves a special permit. To be eligible, a property must be at least 10 acres and the owner should be prohibited from developing the property for two years after receiving the agricultural designation.
In a series of votes on Monday evening, the city council approved the change of the zone code and approved the annexation of the Walton farm, the rededication in “housing estate” and the granting of a special permit for further use as arable land. The council also passed ordinances reflecting the county’s tax exemption exempting agricultural land from the city’s ban on keeping livestock.
The council voted 6-1 to approve the zone code changes and 7-0 to approve Walton’s proposal.
Councilor Travis McDermott, who represents the area, cast the only vote against, saying that some of his voters question how the annexation will benefit the city as a whole.
Lauren Gouge, who lives next door to Walton Farm, expressed concern that the property might be developed in the future and called on the council to extend the development ban from two years to 15 years after a property has been converted to agriculture .
“An extra home in the neighborhood won’t upset the balance, but a small subdivision would certainly do,” she said, noting that the property is in an environmentally sensitive area and is in White Clay Creek State Park.
Councilor Chris Hamilton has also expressed an interest in extending the two-year ban.
“We saw projects get approved and all of a sudden, my gosh, the economy changed and we’re just going to build something different,” said Hamilton. “I have concerns that they might come back in two years and ask for development.”
City lawyer Paul Bilodeau said a lengthy ban could not apply in court.
Walton’s attorney Barrett Edwards argued that the annexation would benefit the city.
“What you are going to do is effectively create a green belt in the city and preserve open spaces. And you will give the City of Newark control over what happens on this property and what could happen under county regulations, ”said Edwards.