With car wash, Millsboro council casts conditional approval to Royal Farms’ revised plans

MILLSBORO – Legendary songwriter Jim Croce once sang about his working-at-the-car-wash blues.

Amid visual and aesthetic concerns regarding Royal Farms’ car wash plans at its new store site currently under construction along U.S. 113, Millsboro town council approved revised final plans with conditions related to water usage.

Revised site plans now include the car wash, which Millsboro solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox said upon further review through communication with Royal Farms’ attorneys is permitted under town code as “maintenance.”

Millsboro council at its December meeting rendered conditional approval to Royal Farms’ revised final site plans for a new location on U.S. 113 that includes a car wash.

Council at its Nov. 6 meeting had tabled approval of the revised final site plan, pending receipt of photographic rendering of the proposed car wash and determination of permitted use in the town’s highway commercial district.

The issue was whether the car wash is a separate, second permitted principle use. Town zoning code allows just one permitted principle use for the highway commercial-zoned property.

“The attorneys for Royal Farms, they answered my questions,” said Ms. Schrider-Fox. “Basically, they pointed out that you have a definition of service station … plans and buildings providing the sale of fuel, lubricant for vehicles and other accessories and for providing maintenance. That is the language they emphasized to me.”

Definition of maintenance also includes washing, Ms. Schrider-Fox said.

“So, their interpretation that as a matter of right the facility like a Royal Farms gas station has a convenience store, gas pumps and also has something for washing, like a car wash,” said Ms. Schrider-Fox. “They pointed out that in the state of Delaware there is case law that talks about when you have zoning code issues like this, if it is ambiguous or subject to more than one reasonable interpretation about how to read it, the winner of that debate is the owner of that property. It is a gray area. With that being said, I agree with their interpretation. That is a reasonable way to read the existing language in your code in that his would be part of service station definition and the maintenance piece of that definition.”

Moving forward, Ms. Schrider-Fox suggested if council finds this troubling it could “very specifically visit that issue in your zoning code.”

The condition placed on council’s approval is for town consultant Duffield Associates to review some issues related to water and wastewater associated with the car wash, Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson said.

Michael Riemann, an engineer with Becker Morgan Group, assured council the proposed car wash is a new, modern prototype developed by the Mid-Atlantic convenience store chain. It’s not one of those greenhouse-type car washes, he said.

Architecture for the roofed structure includes stone and hardwood. One side will still be a plex-o-glass type material.

And that is the concern.

“The view of that is still the same,” said councilman Tim Hodges.

“You’re looking it from the store,” said Mr. Riemann, noting plans call for glass on just one side with no glass on the entrance or exit.

Architectural design is aimed to address tunnel vision and claustrophobia, Mr. Riemann said.

“There are some people that are claustrophobic. I know people that will not go across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge without hiding in the back and putting a towel over their head. So, you’re penalizing someone that has a fear of going in through a tunnel system … as opposed to with it open.”

“But if you do it this way you are penalizing everybody else,” said Mr. Hodges. “So, what I hear you saying is you are making this change to benefit the few and penalize the masses. You came up with the design to make sure that no one is claustrophobic in there …”

Mr. Riemann explained that the glass section would allow personnel from inside the store see inside the car wash structure in the event of a safety/emergency issue.

“It is just like the fuel pumps,” said Mr. Riemann. “The fire marshals require that the fuel pumps be seen from the store itself as opposed to be hidden behind a certain part of the building.”

“I wish you didn’t have to have it because the site would look a lot better without it,” said Mr. Hodges. “The sad thing is I know I feel like Royal Farms is twisting our arm saying you can’t deny this.”

Councilman Larry Gum said he favored site plan improvements in general but specifically doesn’t like the glass component.

“That is the thing we talked about. It gets dirty so fast,” said Mr. Gum.

Mr. Hodges asked how Royal Farms plans to keep the glass portion clean and not cloudy or scummy looking.

“It cleans itself, with what is going on in there,” said Mr. Riemann. “And they maintain it on a periodic basis.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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