Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens projects unveiled

State’s first ‘flagship botanical garden’ could create 100 jobs

Coastal Point |July 19, 2013

By Maria Counts

Last week, the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing for a conditional-use application for Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens, to have a botanical garden located in Dagsboro, in an agricultural residential district.

Mark Davidson of Pennoni Associates, who is the principal land planner and consultant for the project, said the Southern Botanic Gardens is a 503(c)(3) nonprofit organization that wants to create a public garden in southern Delaware.

“Their mission is to create an inspirational, educational and sustainable public gardens in southern Delaware for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. They desire to create Delaware’s first flagship botanic garden.”

The 36.99-acre property, south of Piney Neck Road and west of Bunting Road, is owned by the Sussex County Land Trust but would be leased to the nonprofit for 99 years, with the option of renewal.

Michael J. Zajic, president of the Board of Directors of the Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens, said that the nonprofit has worked for two years to reach a point where they would be able to present a plan to the County.

“We want to make a showcase for Delaware’s beautiful waterfront heritage and educate people about it,” he said.

As Delaware does not have its own botanic garden, Zajic said the garden they hope to erect would offer public classes for children and adults, multiple gardens, a visitor center, conservatory, theater, nature center and onsite parking.

Zajic said the plans have a kidney-shaped parking area that will be green — both literally and figuratively. “We’ll have a garden parking lot. The curb has interruptions every 10 spaces, with trees and shrubs… It’ll be beautiful.”

He added that there will be a covered walkway with a living roof, so that people may tour the facility in inclement weather, as well as a tram service that will take those who need accessibility assistance through the gardens.

“We hope to put in a large pond and arboretum,” said Zajic. “The pond has a canal about a half-mile long. We’ll have electric flat-bottom boats that will go around for a 35-minute tour with an ecologist onboard and a captain, so people can enjoy the gardens and the beauty of seeing them from the water. We’ll also have waterfalls, as well as bridges to go under and over.”

On the Pepper’s Creek side of the property, Zajic said the organization plans to have a café, as well as floating docks and more flat-bottom boats, to give eco-tours of the estuary.

“We want to educate people about the wetlands themselves,” he said, noting there would be six classrooms onsite, with professional educators.

Aside from jungle, desert, sand, historic, kids’ and vegetable gardens, there are also plans for three vernal pools and a bog garden to be located on at least a half-acre and as much as a full acre, with boardwalks so visitors may walk through the area.

“We think this is something that people are going to enjoy immensely.” Davidson said that there would be a bio-filtration facility onsite, as well as numerous rain gardens to help with the gardens’ environmental impact. There are also plans to install agricultural irrigation wells to maintain water levels in the pond and canals, as well as the gardens.

“This is a perfect project to be able to utilize some of the practices that are within the green technology booklet of the state of Delaware,” he said. “We will be treating the stormwater prior to discharging anything into Pepper’s Creek. Our goal here is to not discharge that much. The goal would be to recharge all of this back into the ground.

It would be to our benefit to keep as much of the runoff on site as we possibly can, making sure it all gets cleaned up before it enters the water table.”

He added that the domestic drinking water and water for fire protection would be provided by Tidewater Utilities.

Zajic said the nonprofit hopes to increase biodiversity through the gardens, with plans to add 2,000 trees, 8,000 shrubs, 150,000 perennial plants, 600,000 bulbs and 100,000 native plants.

Davidson noted that the project is expected to generate approximately 394 new jobs in the region, with 110 full- and part-time jobs in the gardens themselves. It was also estimated that the gardens would bring $33 million to the local economy of its surrounding area.

The gardens would be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to dusk, or until 11 p.m. for special events. Its annual attendance is estimated at 84,000 people per year.

Davidson said that a presentation on the project was given to the Dagsboro town council and mayor, followed by a presentation to Dagsboro residents at the Dagsboro Fire Hall.

Dagsboro resident Harry Aman said that, although he hadn’t heard about the possibility of the gardens until recently, he would be in favor of the project. “I’m glad to see somebody is doing something beautiful. Bring it on.”

Davidson said the site would not be up and running immediately, as it would take five to eight years to phase in.

The commission voted unanimously to defer their decision for the receipt of comments from the State’s Preliminary Land Use Service (PLUS).