Saturday, May 19, 2018

Townsend's "Ogletown Park" vs Meyer's County Efforts

The NCC Ethics Committee (NCCEC) already quashed STOP's complaint against Exec Meyer, based on subjective information and hearsay from interviews of those accused in STOP's complaint. This also included Rich Hall of Meyer's Land Use Dept for the failed traffic impact study (TIS) debacle. This is a gross injustice, because even to a layman, putting the developer and the seller's land use attorney in Chairmanship positions on any Parks Team -- the equivalent of putting foxes in charge of the hen house -- is criminal, disgusting, and inappropriate. Even if their intentions were pure, it doesn't remove the potential for bias and favoritism. The two had a vested interest in developing the Orphanage Property. That in itself is a Conflict of Interest (COI), and that the NCCEC denied this suggests collusion between them and Exec Meyer. After all, it was Meyer that appointed them, another COI!

Out of consideration, our representing attorney with the NCCEC suggested that organizations like STOP usually spend the money to execute Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. By doing so, we would make every last attempt to retrieve all documents, emails, texts, etc between Exec Meyer and the Felician Sisters from the time that the supposed buyout negotiations took place. However, this can be very expensive and STOP Advocates have already spent enough of their own money on this failed campaign. Not only that, but a FOIA is not a subpoena; Meyer and his minions would have full discretion over what was divulged, much of which took place in private and likely has no documentation.

According to Executive Meyer in his "County Efforts to Preserve Felician Sisters Ogletown Property" timeline:

Over the course of negotiations, New Castle County made the property owners four written offers to acquire the land. Each offer expressed the County’s support for the owner’s desire to retain a portion of the parcel and develop 60 affordable rental apartments. To date, the four County offers stand as the only written offers to purchase and preserve this land.

Despite their rhetoric, the property owners never proposed an offer for sale they would accept.  The owners never responded to any of the offer letters with a specific counter-offer, sale conditions or a sale price they would accept to complete the sale.

Funding commitments for purchase:
County: County Executive Matt Meyer offered up to $2.5 million in New Castle County funds to acquire this land at appraised value, subject to approval by County Council and contingent on the commitment of matching funds from the State of Delaware.

STATE: In June, 2017 State Senator Bryan Townsend initially tried to secure “$2 million for the first year of a five-year, $6 million commitment,” to purchase the property according to draft bond bill language he submitted to the General Assembly.  Unfortunately, Senator Townsend’s efforts to secure that allocation were unsuccessful and the approved Fiscal Year 2018 bond bill only included a soft one-time commitment of $1.25 million in state funds.  The failure to secure adequate funds from the State complicated efforts to secure a successful purchase.

PRIVATE SOURCES: New Castle County committed to taking all possible steps to help secure funding from private, not-for-profit funding sources for the balance of the purchase price.

Meanwhile, the owners continued to advance the pending development plan through the land use process.  In July, 2017, the owner and developer sought and received final development plan approval.


In Senator Townsend's public timeline "Ogletown Park", and in person and in emails, he and Rep Osienski tell the opposite story. They describe how Exec Meyer was anything but sincere and genuine in wanting a regional park. There were not 4 buyout offers; only 2 were viable. They claim that Meyer's 2 lame attempts at a buyout agreement failed to include several key conditions that he promised the Sisters.

In July 2017, Towsend and Osienski detail the difficulties they had in encouraging Meyer to present a reasonable offer to the Sisters, and how invaluable time was squandered and deadlines expired. Additionally, on Aug 1st, 2017, they claim that Meyer refused to participate in a joint teleconference with Sen Townsend, even though that was the Sister's own request. The Sisters felt that Townsend understood their needs and had communicated them effectively. "Ogletown Park" and its timeline is a publicly released document and an official statement from Townsend/Osienski, and should have been used as admissible evidence to support STOP's complaint to the Ethics Committee, but apparently, it wasn't enough.

So, in a game of "Name that Liar", we have two attorney politicians representing the County and State, with two very conflicting stories. To make matters worse, neither will challenge each other out of party loyalty, and will jump at the chance to support each other's re-election bid!

In our next post: More on the NCC Ethics Committee, including a scanned copy of their letter dismissing the Setting/Hoffman/Parks Transition Team conflict of interest, and how useless they really are.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

STOP to Delaware's Environmental Organizations: Epic Fail

By Angela Connolly and Frank Warnock,  formerly of Save The Orphanage Property

There is plenty of blame to go around for the public loss of the 180 acre Orphanage Property, watershed, wetlands and critical habitat area in Ogletown-S. Newark. It was the last significant open space, and the last opportunity for a regional park and trail system; residents are now committed to either Pike Creek, Glasgow, or others well out of the region -- and certainly not "local" to anyone here.

It is a very sad day when an organization such as UAW's CAP Council -- a non-environmental org no doubt -- can endorse a campaign like STOP without hesitation, but DE Audubon, Sierra Club, Wildlands, etc would not. They either found it too little of a PR grab, or they just couldn't be bothered wading through their own red tape and bureaucracy to take a position one way or the other.

There has been a lot of discussion, and controversy surrounding our courting of environmental organizations for support of Save the Orphanage Property (STOP). As one of our latest Facebook posts on the topic is fast approaching 1,000 "reached", we are considering paying them a few dollars (something we only do for action alerts) down and "boosting" it further. It is a discussion we need to have, or expect little from said orgs and certainly no united front.

STOP articulated a very simple, yet concise email and sent it to dozens of organizations contained on a list used by Advocates in opposition of HB-190, a bill to gut environmental protections for DE's coastal zone. The architects of that bill were -- you guessed it -- Senator Townsend and Rep. Osienski (as though they haven't presided over enough environmental damage already). Their environmental record shows rather clearly that these two, like their NCC colleagues Executive Meyer and Councilwoman Diller, are among the most anti-environmental legislators in Dover, but that's fodder for a future article.

Moving on, these were STOP's three simple asks, contained in the email to said org's representatives, sent multiple times:

" . . . Your support of us need extend no further than a statement from you, saying that -

1. You share STOP's support of the Felician Sisters Mission to build affordable housing for the underserved in Ogletown.

2. You agree with STOP that the development, if it goes through as fully planned, will have a negative impact, both on the environment, and the existing infrastructure including roads, schools, and drainage, on Ogletown and the surrounding neighborhoods. The Wetlands area and Vernal Pools will be harmed, as well as the wildlife there.

3. You support and share STOP's desire that the land apart from that which is needed to build the affordable housing, should be used to create a Regional park instead of approximately 200 additional housing units, and that you encourage the County and the Sisters to negotiate an outcome to that end."


Is it us? A noted Advocate from Newark recently accused us of having "no idea what it takes to build a coalition". Really? We were guided and advised by Mr. Donald Sharp, who is a noted, 40+ year Advocate who was instrumental, along with Dorothy Miller and others, in saving large tracts of what is now known as the White Clay Creek State Park and Preserve. He continues in that role today, with the Coalition For Natural Stream Valleys, more recently working with Richard DuPont to save even more. We were also advised by other noted and senior Advocates, including Civic League of NCC members with abundant land use campaign experience. We carefully followed their advice. We also signed on, without hesitation, to support the opposition to HB190 - because the bill was a product of the same Legislators - Townsend and Osienski - that had 6 years (first two keeping it a secret) and multiple chances at saving the Orphanage Property. We are very proud of our efforts, although evil won in the end. In a nutshell, the support just wasn't there.

We really don't think it could have been much easier. We had no choice but to rely on people caring. They had to have a willingness to follow STOP on-line (3 venues -- two web w/ email updates, and one social media). Or in this case, for endorsements, answer a few simple questions. Were we supposed to break from what became a full time commitment (including our normal FT jobs and other advocacy pursuits and goals), stake out these orgs in person or at their functions and spoon feed it to them? No one was asking anyone to endorse "STOP" as an org; they were asked to join in opposition to the destruction of the Orphanage Property. That, in turn, would provide cover in the advent that STOP advocates engaged in questionable activities.

We want everyone to remember this come "Endangered Species Day" this weekend, when these same orgs/chapters will be out there strutting their stuff, giving handouts, appealing for memberships and contributions, etc. Remember it when you see them at events such as UD's Ag Day, Earth Day events, etc. We urge our followers to instead consider joining the Delaware Nature Society, whose actions -- such as the swift endorsement of STOP -- speak louder than words. On a more local level, the Coalition for Natural Stream Valleys also needs your help, as does the White Clay Creek Watershed folks. As said earlier, "Charity begins at home" -- think globally, ACT locally.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Ethics Commission to formally "dismiss" STOP allegations

According to the New Castle County Ethics Commission (NCCEC) via email, they carefully considered the complaints by Save the Orphanage Property (STOP) against both NCC Exec Matt Meyer and Rich Hall (Land Use), including a "comprehensive review" of related documents and information from the many individuals involved. The NCCEC voted to dismiss both as charged with respect to the NCC Ethics Code, which sadly, is their only jurisdiction. They say that the facts do not support STOP's claims that the code was violated as alleged in their formal complaint, chief among them, the conflict of interest that occurred when Meyer placed Joe Setting (Orphanage Property Developer) and Mike Hoffman (attorney from the firm representing the Orphanage Property seller) in Chairmanship positions on his Parks Transition Team. The "Team" went on to put Ogletown-S. Newark as 3rd priority for a regional park, knowing full well that, unlike #1 & #2, the Orphanage Property would be this region's last suitable open space and final hope for one.

STOP Advocates now await the NCCEC's formal response, a letter outlining their investigation and how they arrived at this conclusion. In the interim, Advocates wrote back with the following advice:

As for the conflict of interest, we hope that the letter of response clearly outlines, and provides proof of just what Mr Setting's position is. If it doesn't, that is not going to look at all good for the NCCEC or anyone else involved in NCC govt. The News Journal plainly stated that Mr Setting is indeed the developer of the Orphanage Property. We suppose it could be an error, or Setting may have relegated himself, given that now Bob Sipple is known as the developer. But until Setting's non-vested position is demonstrated with clear evidence, everyone will go on seeing this as a blatant conflict of interest no matter what NCCEC says. It is something only the NCCEC can do; as citizens, we have no way to determine his position and the composition of his two "Felician" LLCs. We hope the response addresses that, or we will continue to hold Exec Meyer/NCC accountable and fault the EC for failing to cite the obvious.

According to an email of  March 27, 2018, the NCCEC learned through a preliminary inquiry that Setting was in a position where he would profit equally regardless of who purchased the property -- Government or Private. The question STOP is asking is this; is a "preliminary inquiry" sufficient to learn all the facts in this matter, especially in consideration of the Press and the title of "Developer" given to Joe Setting? What is the role of Joe's two LLCs, and who resides on them? If the NCCEC did investigate to this level, and can prove to us that Setting was indeed NOT vested in the outcome of the Orphanage Property, we will have to accept their dismissal. Until then . . .

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

STOP Final Notes

If only our so-called "representatives"
had a 
conscience like this man . . .
By Frank Warnock and Angela Connolly, STOP Advocates

Well, everyone, hope has run out. We've said this several times already, but this time we're seeing Sipple's deadly cancer spreading over the landscape. Utility work and site prep is advancing to the point that it will be impossible to stop the development, and it won't be stopped.

Look for DelDOT to approve of one entrance/exit way out on Rt.4, and Vic Singer to make one last stand (symbolic at best) when Ryan Homes applies for their 51st building permit. We are under no illusions that his protest will somehow turn things around. We've run out of confidence and energy and are looking forward to ending this grotesque chapter (3 years wasted) of our lives, which will be extremely difficult. Absolutely no good came of this campaign; all it did was prove to everyone just how low NCC and State Govt has sunk in terms of corruption. That, in the face of countless reasons and tons of justification, they STILL flipped off our entire region within their districts. Wow, just, wow. We as advocates were naive, trusting; hoping that kickbacks, payoffs, and profiteering was mainly a national problem. To think it has permeated County and State level politics to this degree is just repugnant; stomach churning. It proves there is NO hope for the citizen advocate, never mind the layman trying to do something positive for the community and the greater good. The opposition comes fast and furious.

What all of you need to be doing now is asking the tough questions. HOW did it come to this, and why were our elected leaders so easily bought off -- or so it would appear? Surely, they will muddle half-baked answers to our questions, insisting they did everything in their power to save the land. But no matter what they say, they DID NOT -- not even close! There were numerous means by which a deal could have been brokered, and if indeed it was the Nuns unwilling to sell, you invoke eminent domain. This by itself could have been done, even amicably, at any time during the 2011-2018 (8 years) time frame that they knew development was coming. It could still be done, but now we're looking at major compensation and rework of damage already done and getting worse daily. At this point, it's simply not going to happen.

Finally, our complaint with the Ethics Commission was dismissed, based on a preliminary investigation that included little in terms of fact finding. Even if it was shown that Joe Setting and Mike Hoffman were not in a position to gain monetarily (they were), you still DON'T do that. You DO NOT place developers on a commission whose purpose is to set regional parkland priority and protect the very land that they massively profit from paving over. Adding to that, they were tasked with setting priority for Ogletown-S. Newark, for the last remaining land suitable for such a purpose -- that THEY stood to profit from developing! It's completely outrageous that our legislators stood idly by and let Meyer and his minions in the Land Use Dept get away with this. But, for reasons we will never grasp, the Ethics Commission did not recognize the obvious. We will will publish their formal letter of dismissal upon receiving it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

STOP's Top 10 Unanswered Questions

Below are the top 10 questions (in no particular order) that County and State agencies and/or officials refuse to answer for us. Most will likely never be answered without the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
  1. Does the NCC Dept of Land Use (DLU) have an established and well-accepted methodology for Level of Service (LOS) evaluations of non-signalized intersections, that include turns into residential side streets, driveways, median cut-throughs, and others that are of little or no consequence to the development? These were well taken advantage in crafting the Traffic Impact Study (TIS) for the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" (CHP), in a tiny radius, to qualify its 3 intersection analysis.
  2. When Vic Singer refuted the above TIS based on failed LOS at adjacent SR4 intersections, the DLU responded that the TIS met the criteria set forth by the Unified Development Code (UDC). They followed that a "Legal Review" was conducted to confirm this. After repeated asks of Mr Richard Hall (DLU Manager), no such "Review" or documents to support this claim have surfaced to date.
  3. What truly is Joe Setting's role in the development of the Orphanage Property? According to the Wilmington News Journal, he is the developer and thus in a position to benefit financially, but may have changed to another role when a conflict of interest became apparent: Developer Joe Setting, of Montchanin-based Setting Properties Inc. is partnering with developer Greg Lingo, formerly of Cornell Homes, and the Felician Sisters on the project".
  4. Who else is partnered in both of Joe Settings LLCs related to the development of the Orphanage Property? According to Wikipedia, "A limited liability company (LLC) is the United States-specific form of a private limited company. It is a business structure that combines the pass-through taxation of a partnership or sole proprietorship with the limited liability of a corporation". What are they hiding?
  5. Is eastbound SR4 access-only really acceptable by DelDOT standards for the CHP, assuming that Mr Stranahan wins his claim for Adverse Possession? According to the FHWA, as of 2014, there are 9.4 daily car trips per day per household. Therefore, with 270 Dwelling Units (DUs), Ogletown residents are looking at ~2,500 additional car trips entering-exiting out on to SR4 each day. The project is barreling forward as though all approvals are in place.

  6. How is it possible that all 3 area representatives -- Councilwoman Lisa Diller, Rep Ed Osienski, and Senator Bryan Townsend -- did NOT recognize the Orphanage Property for the invaluable treasure that it was, and appeal to citizens and advocates to help save it as far back as 2011?
  7. With the State half stakeholder, why didn't our two legislators insist on attending the buyout negotiations with Meyer, instead of waiting for the Nuns to call them with updates?
  8. Why did the NCC Ethics Commission dismiss the flagrant conflict of interest that existed when Exec Meyer appointed Joe Setting (CHP developer) and Mike Hoffman (Felician Sister's legal firm) to his Parks Transition Team?
  9. What prevented our County and State legislators from invoking Eminent Domain to secure the Orphanage Property, for the greater good, as a regional park, and as the last remaining land suitable for such a purpose?
  10. What is preventing our two State legislators from pursuing the first 5 above, using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests of NCC Govt as a means to investigate?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Highest of odds that SR4 intersections already fail at LOS grade "F"

One of the greatest ironies of NCC's approval of the Chestnut Hill so-called "Preserve" is the use of 2010 data to fulfill its Transportation Impact Study (TIS) requirements. Equally surprising is DelDOT's apparent approval, despite adding the failed intersections of Salem Church Road and Library Avenue to the TIS study area. They are under very tight ROW constraints now, and would find it prohibitive and/or nearly impossible to widen Rt.4 and add additional lanes. With developers now getting carte' blanch under NCC Executive Meyer and Land Use Manager Rich Hall, it is not clear how DelDOT will deal with the corridor in the future without the use of eminent domain.

Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) was down significantly in 2010 due to the great recession, and gas prices were nearly $4/gallon. People were consolidating trips, using other means, and driving less in general. If these intersections were a grade "E" in level of service (LOS) in 2010, it's a virtual certainty that they're an "F" today (for a simple chart showing each grade and the delays involved, open the CMS report and turn to page 3).


As seen in this FHWA trend above, national VMT dropped significantly in 2010. The result was gasoline "demand destruction", which triggered a surplus resulting in the record low (adjusted for inflation) pump prices we are seeing today. VMT has since returned to where it left off, and has continued to new record highs. Delaware's improving economy, along with Meyer's fierce pro-development stance will further add to it.



Above:
This interactive map, courtesy of Wilmapco, illustrates the conundrum. If we examine the Rt.4-Salem Church Rd intersection alone, we see an "E" grade fail in 2010 (ditto for Rt.72-Library Ave). The odds are overwhelming that it would score an "F" if measured today, in 2018. Not that it makes a whole lot of difference, since both letters are a fail and come under the same UDC rules. But it does show how dire the situation is out on Rt.4, a hospital corridor and evacuation route no less.
If by some miracle these intersections are still at 2010 grade "E", they are likely teetering on "F" in 2018, meaning that the Chestnut Hill so-called "Preserve" will push them to "F" in any case -- the worst possible grade for vehicle LOS.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

No stopping the Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

Well folks, it is DEFINITELY over now and virtually the entire open space (and 1/3 the woods and wetlands) will be packed with apartments, townhomes, and McMansion homes -- probably by year's end (if not sooner). We were clinging to life, hoping that Stranahan's Adverse Possession claim would complicate things, given that 2 points of access (one bi-directional) were required. It turns out that a min. 300 home development is where that regulation kicks in. Therefore, even if they don't connect to Waverly in Breezewwod, a simple eastbound IN/eastbound OUT on Rt.4 satisfies NCC Unified Development Code (UDC).

We were hoping that, with "Tree of Heaven Way" removed, it would force a new Traffic Impact Study given only one access point at Rt.4. For example, traffic entering/exiting westbound will now have to use U-Turns at intersections or median cut-throughs. This will only complicate already failed Levels of Service (LOS) that now cause massive backups on Rt.4. NCC has no issue with any of this, apparently -- not even that it could delay the arrival of civil services, i.e. paramedics.

DelDOT still must weigh in, and provide for optimal through-movements. But by the time they get involved, even if they don't approve of such a limited access configuration, the project will have advanced to a point where there is no turning back. This was the argument we were trying to convince Vic Singer, who still thinks he can stop the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" at the 51st building permit. 51 dwelling units (DUs) is all the Unified Development Code allows dispensation for, when LOS is in failure mode -- as it most definitely is along Rt.4 and at its intersections. This was another issue we attempted to bring to the Ethics Commission, against Richard Hall, which has been all but dismissed at this point.

As we see it, IF DelDOT weighs in, and as a result of a single one-way access point, upgrades to Rt.4 infrastructure is required, the next question is who pays for it? We have little doubt that we, the taxpayer, will have to foot the bill (never mind Meyer's tax increase), to ensure that Mr Sipple and friends can draw maximum profits. We're all going to pay -- bigly -- in any case; it's the Delaware way.

In closing, nothing can now stand in the way of the full development; not DelDOT, not Vic Singer; not our State Legislators either, who could have easily stopped this over the 6 years they knew about it. In a brilliant counter move, Bob Sipple made sure to modify the building order to ensure that all key infrastructure elements (streets, sewer, drainage, etc) were already in place before any such conflicts arrived. Now, there really is no turning back.