“Welcome back to the beach” is the message written large on a billboard for drivers heading east into the town of Ellendale, accompanied by the image of a real estate agent with arms outstretched.
Ellendale is about as much “the beach” as Milford or Georgetown, which is to say it is not. But it is within shouting distance, and the town is beginning to see the same booming growth as other Sussex towns closer to the water’s edge.
The town has long been a quiet community of a few hundred residents surrounded by farmland, one of those little Sussex towns where you definitely don’t want to exceed the speed limit.
But it’s undergoing a transformation. Developers have had their eyes on the Ellendale area for more than a decade, but the proposed projects are beginning to become reality. Multiple large developments are in the works that have expanded the town limits, with others just outside that may be annexed. These are at all stages from under active construction and already part of the town, to merely numbers on paper that still must pass through the approval process.
All told, these new developments could increase the size of Bridgeville many times over, from a census count of 487 in 2020 to around 2,500 or more residents. (That’s on the low end, using an average of 1.5 people per home to calculate the growth potential.)
Town Council President Aaron Moore said opinion is mixed in town on all the development, but a number of residents can remember days when Ellendale was a more bustling place with stores and manufacturing. Population dropped over the decades after the 1970s, he said, but is now rebounding.
The developments driving this new growth are county-approved projects, he said, so they will be built regardless of the town’s opinion, bringing more traffic and people using town parks. The general feeling, Moore said, is that if the new neighbors are going to be using town services, they should be added to the town to help pay for those services.
It’s still going to be a small town, he said. “It’s not like we’re going to make a run for Dover here.”
“I like the growth,” 30-year Ellendale resident Raymond White said. Change is happening, and everyone’s moving out of the city to come to rural areas, he said. And he wouldn’t mind even more growth. Residents still have to drive elsewhere to go to shopping centers, he pointed out. White said other people he knows feel similarly.
The projects that have been approved show the kind of growth Sussex County planners have been shooting for: More development around towns closer to sewer and water infrastructure, and less in rural areas where it doesn’t make as much sense to build.
In the case of Ellendale, “Certainly there’s going to be an impact in an increased demand on services,” Moore said, “but we’ve been trying to plan for that growth intelligently.”
They’re working on the possibility of setting up special tax districts and annexation agreements for the new parts of town, so that development is covering costs for the infrastructure demands like roads, sewer and water and paying impact fees to help the town grow its services.
Plans for the developments around Ellendale also include affordable housing units like apartments.
Affordable housing is in very short supply in the county, Moore said, so why shouldn’t Ellendale be part of the solution? “They’re not going to build it at the beach, because they know they can get so much more money there (for larger homes).”
The affordability is a definite draw for buyers, said Debbi Brunner, marketing manager for Insight Homes, which is developing Ingram Village, one of the projects. “A lot of our communities are closer to the beach, and obviously the closer to the beach the more expensive the property is,” she said. The small town setting is also attractive, she said. It’s out of the typical level of beach traffic, but only a half hour or so away from the beaches.
A closer look
Plans do fall through, especially in real estate where market circumstances can change rapidly, but these are the projects in the works as of now:
Ingram Village: 375 homes (about 560 new residents)
This was first planned before 2010 under a different owner, Brunner said, who built around 60 homes. The streets and small lots are more like traditional town development than typical sprawling subdivisions. It blends in and there are no big gateways separating it from other parts of the town, and Brunner said that’s intentional.
It has been annexed into Ellendale, extending the town limits a good bit north.
The latest phase of development got started about a year ago, Brunner said, and will include a mix of townhomes and single family homes. They have about 20 homes in various stages of the construction process now.
“The town definitely will flourish off of these properties that are being built there,” Brunner said. “It’s definitely going to bring a lot more to the town.”
Forest Landing: 309 homes, (about 460 new residents)
In a wooded area directly to the north of Ingram Village is the proposed Forest Landing development, which has also existed on paper for years but now appears to be moving forward. Ellendale has annexed this development, Moore said.
W. Zachary Crouch of engineering firm Davis Bowen and Friedel said in an email that the latest iteration of the plans for Forest Landing are for 199 single family lots and 110 townhouses, with amenities including a pool, pickleball courts, a small playground and raised gardens.
Newdale Acres: 296 homes, (about 450 new residents)
Plans were first submitted in 2008 for this development on 141 acres in the farm fields on the southeast side of Ellendale, off Old State Road, under the name Shipbuilders LLC. Since then, the property has changed hands.
In May 2017, Sussex Council approved the plan for Newdale Acres, with 224 single family homes and 72 townhomes and 36 acres remaining in forest. It will have a pool and clubhouse, and small playground. It will also include a public park for the town of Ellendale and a DART bus stop.
Work is now underway. Moore said the developer has not put up homes yet, but has started installing roads and other infrastructure.
Ellendale is planning a hearing about the possibility of annexing Newdale Acres into the town.
Garey Farm: 491 homes (about 740 new residents)
This is the newest of the proposed developments, with plans only submitted for state review in April. The property is about 77 acres, made up of five different parcels on the northwest side of Ellendale, just across the road from Ingram Village. The developer plans to seek annexation into the town.
Plans call for 227 new residences, from single family to multifamily duplexes or townhomes, plus 264 affordable housing units. There would be 21 acres of open space and a pool.
As other projects in this list demonstrate, it can take decades to get from the plan submission to breaking ground, so even if this project is approved it could be quite a while before houses start coming in.
Meanwhile, down the road:
The Enclave at Starwood: 697 homes (about 1,045 new residents)
This one is not in the town of Ellendale, but would be located on around 200 acres surrounding the Royal Farms at the intersection of routes 16 and 113, where a future overpass is being planned. I did not include these potential residents in the calculations of Ellendale’s future growth, but the development would be in essence another town just across the street.
Plans submitted to the state for review in October of last year call for 697 residential units made up of a mix of apartments, townhouses and larger homes, and more than 367,000 square feet of commercial space. The developer requested rezoning it to create a Residential Planned Community District, which is for large-scale development and allows some commercial use.
It’s not clear what this project’s future is. The state planning office in November sent a letter to the developer saying it opposed the project because it doesn’t fit the county’s comprehensive plan or state strategies. This is considered a low density area.
Areas like these in the comprehensive plan, the reviewers noted, “are comprised of prime agricultural lands and environmentally sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitats, which should be, and in many cases have been preserved.”
State officials also objected to the removal of a quarter of the 16 acres of forest on the land.
Even if the developers do not pursue this project, they could choose to submit a new proposal with lower density or no commercial space, but it’s not clear what their next steps might be. A representative of Apennine Development Co., which is working on the project, said via email that there’s not much information to share at this time, but they should know more in the coming months.
For paying members: