Saturday, July 15, 2017

NCC Executive Meyer puts the brakes on STOP

Statement from the Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) Campaign:

We are very sorry to have to tell you that we have lost this epic battle. We have all but exhausted every avenue of approach in trying to bring Ogletown a regional park instead of a destructive and totally unnecessary high density housing development. What we have found is that, no matter how or what we try, it is virtually impossible to win the battle for responsible land use in NCC when government and land developers are thoroughly allied and entrenched. Our campaign to protect the landscape, that included the identification of funding (State and donor), is over after 2 long and exhaustive years. It is a great shame because the property owners and their attorney had indicated their desire to negotiate, and make a deal for parkland instead. This is a tragedy that should not have happened.

In this particular fight, we had a thoroughly proven and documented case for why a regional park would be the superior choice and of greatest benefit to the already underserved residents of Ogletown and S. Newark. There was a few million dollars in NCC park funds available in the budget thanks to former Executive Tom Gordon. Our Legislators put 1.25M in the Bond Bill. A conservancy org had pledged 3/4 million. The Open Space Council pledged a quarter million more. In an offer of generosity, the Felician Sisters had agreed to accept a multi-year buy-out plan from the county/state, meaning that future payments could simply be earmarked in future budgets. This was a one time only opportunity that will never come again. It was a dream offer for NCC, and when something means this much, they make it happen. Not this time, not for Ogletown. Now the dream is dead. With his refusal to budge one dollar above the 5.9 million offer that he made to the Felician Sisters, County Executive Matthew Meyer has condemned this community to the devastating consequences of this massive development project which we now know will take place. Sources told us that although Mr. Meyer did indeed make an offer, it was one that was unreasonable, and designed to fail. Matthew Meyer has decided the future of generations to come. History will remember this, and his legacy will not be one of honor. Remember this when you enter the voting booth upon his re-election.

Where there's a will, there's a way. Instead, County Executive Meyer has turned his back on us. He and NCC lack political will and have put builders and profits over their constituents, quality of life, and the planet. At the County Council Meeting that we attended on July 11, instead of communication, respect, and transparency, we witnessed episodes of hostility and resentment, along with accusations of shady dealing and underhandedness. And from the start of Executive Meyer's term, there were red flags. Ask yourselves how Joseph Setting, the very Developer who just won the Orphanage Property, landed a position as Chairman of Executive Meyer's Parks Transition Team. This was a clear conflict of interest and we may yet investigate how we can make a formal objection.

We at STOP chose to take the high ground during the last few weeks, choosing to trust that Mr. Meyer would do the right thing, and act in the best interests of this community. We refused to participate in demonstrations and protests because we felt that, if there was even a shred of hope left, we could not risk alienating the Felician Sisters by risking disrespect shown to them during a protest. We also were bound to the many organizations that honored us by supporting us, and wanted to conduct ourselves with dignity. We choose to do battle with the keyboard, which we feel is mightier than the sword.

One thing we have learned is the importance of community engagement. Although we are at this moment devastated by Executive Meyer's sabotage, our spirits are not crushed. Although we will soon disable this page, we hope that you will join us here, or at, where we will continue to try a make a difference and connect with our community. Land Use advocacy has left a bitter taste in our mouths, but our concern for our community will continue.

In closing, we urge all of you to consider what has unfolded when entering the voting booth next time. Please, never forget. Please consider this fiasco when voting for candidates for County Council. There is nothing more we can say at this point, except thanks to all of you for your support. We want you to know that we did everything within our power to stop this development from happening. We regret that we did not succeed.

Friday, July 7, 2017

DO: Ogletown park proposal gets state funding commitment

By Lex Wilson, Delaware On-Line -- State money has boosted an effort to create a park on a former orphanage property in Ogletown, an effort to fend off a proposed 269-home development.

Tucked inside legislation that funds state construction projects is a commitment for the state to pay $1.25 million toward the purchase of a portion of the former Our Lady Of Grace Home for Children property.

"It is a huge step forward," said State Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, who sits on the committee responsible for crafting the state's legislation for construction. "The key question at the county level is, are they similarly able to formalize a financial commitment to making this park possibility a reality."

The state's current commitment will only cover a portion of the $5.9 million appraised value of the property. New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said his government is evaluating how much money it can put toward the proposal.

"The state's work done. It is now fully on the county to act," said Angela Connolly, co-founder of a residents' group bent on preserving the property. [Full story ...]

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

STOP signs are running out. Last chance to order!

The first order of 100 superbly designed Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) signs is nearly exhausted, thanks to our huge regional following! It may not be necessary to place a second order, as the signs are now commonly seen by area residents and commuter through traffic. Also, they aren't cheap, and came as an out of pocket expense from STOP's core group of advocates. Some of you did donate to help offset the cost, and for that we are grateful. At this point, however, we can't worry too much about fundraising; the goal is to get the signs out there in abundance, in strategic locations, and we have achieved that with little effort. If our campaign is successful, maybe they'll become a collector's item!

If you haven't placed your order for this beautiful free yard sign, consider doing so today, before they run out. We are literally down to about 10% remaining. Simply email with your home address!

Stay tuned for updates on the status of our campaign. Several key make-or-break dates and deadlines are fast approaching. We sincerely hope that our Legislators and NCC leaders deliver the outcome that we all have been waiting for!

Streets like this one in Breezewood are lined with STOP yard signs.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

STOP coverage in Ogletown Resilience

As most of you know, Save the Orphanage Property (STOP) is getting regular coverage on 1st State Bikes. Regional parks are crucial for our quality of life, which includes walking, running, relaxing, taking in nature, etc. For bicycling, they make wonderful destinations. It is also the primary news topic of Ogletown Resilience. Once there is an outcome, we will begin to diversify in the areas of active transportation, environmental stewardship, and sustainable living -- our current mission statement. Also, visit STOP on Facebook and like them to receive all the latest updates.

STOP will remain the primary topic for the duration of the campaign, since we have many first time visitors as a result of our yard signs. If you are one of these folks, please scroll down through our postings and bring yourself up to date. If you are checking in to acquire a yard sign, please email: and provide your home address, and we will deliver. The area surrounding the Orphanage Property is the priority, which includes Todd Estates, Breezewood, Scottfield, and Brookside. Our first 100 are going fast, so email us today!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Flashback 2004: Glenville condemned. Who's next?

Photo from Wikipedia
In January 2004, Delaforum posted what is still the most detailed account of Glenville, a Stanton development that had to be abandoned. In short, Glenville began experiencing flood problems with the onset of numerous other developments springing up in the Christina-Red Clay Watershed. A few major storms (tropical, hurricane) pushed it over the edge, forcing NCC and the State into a buyout plan. Excerpts from the page:

State government is expected to also put up $15 million, but that cannot actually happen until the General Assembly enacts the annual capital-spending budget in late June. Delaware's congressional delegation reportedly is working to obtain federal money to reimburse state and county governments, but nothing is expected to move forward in that regard until late spring or early summer.

Meanwhile, County Executive Tom Gordon said, residents still living in Glenville and those in other low-lying communities along the Red Clay Creek remain in danger of being hit by another flood-causing storm.

Although there could be some question whether state or federal money will materialize, Council president Christopher Coons said he and his colleagues "have a degree of confidence ... that the governor and [county] executive will keep their word" and make the unprecedented buy-out at least a state-county project, if not a federal-state-county one.

What sets the Glenville situation apart from others, Brainard said, is that it involves obvious public health and safety issues. Apart from that, the state has a separate interest in acquiring property in that area. The community lies just north of the confluence of Red Clay and White Clay Creeks and Bread and Cheese Island. That is near where Delaware Department of Transportation will be required to replace wetland that will be lost by the planned widening of the Delaware Turnpike. [More . . .]

According to officials at the NCC Dept of Land Use (DLU), the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" will see much, if not most of its runoff channeled to Leathermans Run, a tributary of the Christina River. The final stretch of Leathermans is on the State's FEMA map as a type "A" flood hazard. What this means for adjacent residents (i.e. Woodshade to the SE) isn't clear, but it can't be positive. Will the green hash marks of the flood plain need to be redrawn, possibly overlapping property lines? Even without the Orphanage Property open space (and part of the forest and wetlands) paved over, Todd Estates and Breezewood residents are used to seeing the grasslands and woods fill with standing water. It is a very low land and has a high water table. This and more will now be heading to the Christina via Leathermans Run or will simply "absorb into the ground", according to officials and the report.

According to DLU officials, flood water on the Orphanage Property will be alleviated using
Leathermans Run and the Christina River.

The purple line represents the Salem Village Tax Ditch. The village is routinely threatened by
runoff, and the ditch helps protect communities like Chelmsford by channeling large
amounts of stormwater to Leathermans Run. Some units and their outbuildings are seen
sinking into the ground, which is unstable to begin with. It can be argued that this
development, and others nearby should never have been built in the first place.

Martha Denison explains the critical purpose of the Tax Ditch, that is used to protect low
lying neighborhoods from flooding. This stretch, in Chelmsford, is part of one that circles
Salem Village, as seen in the above map. Also pictured is Angela Connolly.

Visit Save the Orphanage Property (STOP) on Facebook, like us, and spread the word!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

NCC Executive Matt Meyer tours the Orphanage Property

On Friday May 19th, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and other New Castle County officials met with advocates and community leaders for a walking tour of the Orphanage Property. The tour showcased the extraordinary beauty of the land, including its open fields, woods, wetlands & vernal pools, and its amazing trail system. As we have written about extensively, an organization called "Save the Orphanage Property" (STOP) is advocating for approx. 160 acres to be saved as a regional park for Ogletown-South Newark. Some acreage would remain with the Felician Sisters, to fulfill their mission to build 60 affordable housing units, and STOP fully supports that aspect of the development.

Unfortunately, there is nothing encouraging beyond what we already know. Although Executive Meyer seemed to enjoy the walk and was willing to hear our concerns, he remains steadfast that no NCC funds -- not even the few million already set aside for parks -- will be spent on saving the Orphanage Property. This, however, could change if NCC Council votes to relax rules that require NCC-hired contractors to use apprentices. He forecasts that this would save the County 2-5M dollars per year, which would help cover the 3M needed as a first year installment (as part of a 6M multi-year buyout plan). But that might not happen in time to stop the Chestnut Hill "Preserve".

In addition to now available County funds, approx. 1M in donor funds have also been identified. The approx. 1M per year payments over the next few years could be earmarked in the Bond Bill. In a recent e-mail, Senator Bryan Townsend wrote that he and Rep. Osienski continue to engage in efforts to identify funds at the State level to acquire the property. But, as he wrote, and has told us many times, "the main driver of the solution must be at the County level". Unfortunately, Councilwoman Lisa Diller has not been very enthusiastic about saving this land from development, and has not been willing to communicate with, or work with STOP or other advocates to make a regional park a reality. And it is critical that, as Councilwoman of the district, she represents her constituents who have strong objections to this development.

It is also important to know that in communications with STOP leaders, Mark Schafale, the Chief Financial Officer for the Felician Sisters, as well as Sister Mary Christopher Moore, have both stated that they are very willing to hear what the County can offer as a deal. It is still possible to find a way to make a regional park a reality, and to stop the infrastructural and environmental devastation that the project will cause if it goes forward as currently planned. However, unless both County Executive Meyer and Councilwoman Diller are willing to take the necessary and aggressive actions, the opportunity to save this last remaining open space in Ogletown will be lost forever.

-- Angela Connolly contributed to this article

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Open Space Preservation as a Democratic Platform Plank?

In the Autumn of 2016, STOP advocates worked hard on a campaign to have the Delaware Democratic Party include open space preservation as a plank in their 2017 platform. This was not an endorsement of a particular party; the Democrats just happen to be our State's controlling party at this time. Unfortunately, despite repeated asks, it has either not come up for vote or has been tabled.

Open Space and Farmland Preservation is supported by the overwhelming majority of the electorate, regardless of party affiliation. Countless studies have shown the importance of parkland, natural habitat, and bio-diversity in a community's overall health and well being. Ordinary folks know this. Yet the party that sells itself as stewards of the environment is nowhere to be found, as evidenced by their silence on STOP.

Below is the breakdown of those who signed on in support of the plank. Conspicuously absent is newly elected Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, whom advocates reached out to  on multiple occasions without success. Obviously, we cannot, and will not tell our followers who to vote for. But we hope that open space preservation is at least one of the deciding factors when they enter the voting booth!