A nonprofit organization's scaled-back plan to build rental units for people with disabilities has earned approval from Delaware's planning commission.

The commission Feb. 7 voted unanimously to recommend Delaware City Council approve Del-Mor Dwellings Corp.'s request to rezone the 3.6-acre site at 250 Curtis St. ahead of the construction of 40 apartments. The organization initially sought to bring 48 rental units to the site.

Michael Shade, attorney for Del-Mor Dwellings, said his client removed one of six proposed eight-unit rental buildings from its plans after discussing the project with city officials and residents.

"We heard that feedback and that resulted in the reduction," he said.

Jim Wilson, executive director of Del-Mor Dwellings, said his organization initially planned to develop the project site in two phases. With the planned reduction, he said the complex would be constructed in one phase.

Wilson said he did not think it would be difficult to fill the 40 rental units even if they all become open to renters at the same time.

"There's an unmet need out in this community for this type of supportive housing," he said.

Del-Mor Dwellings next will need to seek multiple approvals from Delaware City Council before it can move forward with the project.

The planning commission's decision last week followed a lengthy debate between advocates and opponents of the development.

Bryan Hunt, an attorney representing the homeowners association of the nearby Curtis Farms neighborhood, said city officials have been characterizing the project as an affordable-housing or apartment complex, which he questioned.

"It really appears to me that this is more of a congregant-care facility," he said, noting the city's standards likely would be different for such a project.

Hunt said his clients also are concerned the development of the facility could lead to an increase in crime and a decrease in property values in the area. He said Del-Mor Dwellings has "an honorable mission," but his clients question the appropriateness of the development site.

"There is undoubtedly a need for this type of supported-living facility, but it remains unclear why (this) location would be considered the most-appropriate location to fulfill this need," he said.

Michael Gamble, who moved to Curtis Farms last year, said he views the density of the planned complex as incompatible with the "family-friendly" neighborhood.

"The homeowners in the neighborhood will be negatively impacted," he said. "We will lose value on our homes because this will sit directly in the gateway to our community."

Tom Wolber, a resident of the nearby Sunnyview Farms neighborhood, spoke in support of the complex. He said he thinks opponents of the project are letting irrational fears get the better of them.

"We know from national statistics that people with mental issues are far more likely to be victimized themselves than victimizing others," he said.

Curtis Farms resident Kurt Hildebrand said the prospective clientele of the complex is not what concerns neighbors.

"We're worried about the traffic," he said. "We're worried about the structure. We're not worried about the residents."

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@twgallick