At first glance, the traditional-style homes in Bethany Beach, Del.’s Silver Woods community resemble many others dotting the Mid-Atlantic region. But its quickly evident that the resort town’s latest planned development is unique, boasting community-building initiatives and habitat-preserving efforts that are pleasing to conservation-conscious locals and second-home shoppers alike. At the same time, baby boomer buyers are getting more than just an attractive location two miles from the ocean: NAHB-certified green-building practices bring the promise of lower energy bills and healthy indoor air quality, all without sacrificing brand-name amenities. Situated on the Delmarva Peninsula, a stretch along the coast of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, Bethany Beach offers a slower pace than some of its neighbors. With Silver Woods, developer Bob Thornton sought to protect the existing land rather than carve it bare. “I was motivated by watching national firms come into the Bethany Beach resort area and clear cut,” Thornton explains. “Everything went. And they basically would create a dusty jobsite, build homes, and plant 2-foot trees.”
The first step Thornton took was to overhaul a decades-old site plan, reducing the number of lots from 378 to 350, allowing him to increase the amount of public space and preserve most of the property’s 240-year-old oak stands.
Thornton implemented restrictions that allow for tree cutting only when required by a home’s footprint or roads, regulations that not only help maintain the natural appearance but also aid in shading and help extend the perceived size of many lots. “This is what adds additional value to our bottom line. If we lose a lot, we don’t care,” Thornton says. “Lawfully, I can cut them down; … economically, it pays to cordon them off and make them part of the natural landscape.”
About 30 acres of the subdivision will remain as open space. This includes the tree stands, wetlands, boardwalked nature trails, and feeding stations that attract seasonal migrating birds. A dock will be used to teach kids to fish, and trails will connect to the town’s existing network of bike lanes.
Silver Woods will employ integrated pest management practices, utilizing plant species that attract birds and insects that help eradicate pests. This includes stocking the development’s two retention ponds with mosquito-larvae-eating gambusia fish. (The fish raise questions from some in the industry; Thornton says research by his environmental consultant on the project found no adverse impact for the area.)
To avoid having to add additional retention ponds in the later stages, Thornton will implement point-of-discharge stormwater management. A combination of mechanical filtration and natural drainage swales at the end of the property filter the runoff before it flows into the tidal basin, which then benefits from the freshwater recharge, Thornton says. The process also reduces nitrogen and phosphate runoff into the ocean that can lead to fish- and crab-killing algae blooms.
The habitat management practices weren’t all touchy-feely: Thornton’s efforts were key to gaining approvals from a small town so closely tied to the health of its coastal ecosystem.