Thursday, November 23, 2017

Save The Orphanage Property 3rd Press Release

With the loss of the Orphanage Property, and with that, what appears any possibility of a regional park for the entire Ogletown-S.Newark region, it is important that we continue to document exactly what went wrong, and hold those in charge accountable. Issuing a press release is an excellent way to do this, and reach a maximum audience including the media.

Whether it was a vested interested in the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" (CHP), corruption, or simple indifference, one thing is abundantly clear; both property owner and political will was lacking. The Ogletown-S. Newark region was already known to be dis-enfranchised in matters of community, place-making, and local access to quality regional parkland facilities. What has taken place here only cements this issue further, and in a way that can never be reversed.

View the official press release in PDF

Monday, November 20, 2017

Top 15 reasons cited for Saving The Orphanage Property

With past News Journal articles backing NCC Executive Meyer when he speaks of similar parkland needs in Southern New Castle County (NCC), it is important to note that the Save The Orphanage Property campaign was never just about a much needed locally accessible regional park (tho' that is high on the list). Here are the TOP 15 other reasons we gleaned from hundreds of our follower's comments, emails and messages, in no particular order:
  • Furthering the threat to endangered species and biodiversity
  • Aggressive and oppressive traffic congestion on Route 4
  • Paving over a vast and impermeable high water table
  • Displacing and degrading high quality wetlands
  • Deforestation in an era of rapid climate change
  • Light and noise pollution
  • Loss of community walking and biking trails 
  • Wildlife habitat loss
  • Increased emissions and 2+C of global warming
  • Inevitable increases in property and school taxes
  • A recreational need for area children given the loss of Vince's
  • Approximately 17,000 unoccupied homes in NCC
  • Loss of property values
  • Degradation of existing, surrounding neighborhoods
  • A decrease in overall quality of life
Senator Townsend just wrote to us Friday Nov. 17, with several key stakeholders in CC, and had this to say:

"I have been informed that the sale [Sisters/Developers] closed today. Though we’ve known for many weeks that this was likely to happen, it still is deeply, deeply saddening that such an amazing opportunity for the Rt 4 community was missed. Thank you for all your efforts; we would not have made at as close as we did without them."

We thank the Senator for his communications; he has been consistent in his contact with us. But it just can't get any more disgusting. A select few that are anointed to look out for us 'mere mortals' have made a decision that will forever change an entire region for the worse, and it can never be undone. We remain speechless, stunned at what amounts to a total breakdown in Government leadership, combined with blatant hypocrisy within the Catholic Church. Words escape us.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

STOP: County at fault, but State Legislators not blameless


It is no secret that Councilwoman Lisa Diller stated "I'm done, I'm finished!" multiple times in reference to a regional park instead of high density housing development on the Orphanage Property. Before the battle was truly lost, and the sale finalized, she circulated a letter of defeat to her 5th District Constituents, unwilling to support Save The Orphanage Property, instead firmly supporting Executive Meyer in his refusal to budge one dollar above the property's appraised value. There is no doubt that a major reason our campaign failed was lack of County support. However, the County aside, some of you have written to us, asking if our two State Legislators share responsibility for the STOP fiasco, and you ask if they could have worked harder to save the land. Here are several thoughts.
  • Representative Osienski and Senator Townsend (along with Councilwoman Diller) all knew that the Nuns were pushing for development 2 years (in 2013) before hundreds of angry residents converged on Holy Family Church for the meeting in July 2015. We have heard it said that their awareness of the possibility of development stretched as far back as 2011, but for that we lack written evidence. By 2015, residents faced no choice but were TOLD what was coming to their community, instead of an appeal for comments and public input as is typical in the beginning stages of any major project. All three Legislators failed to inform and engage the Community in enough time to work together to help the Sisters realize their goal of creating affordable housing, while finding a suitable way to preserve the rest of the land. It has been argued, didn't the Sisters have the right to sell their land? Absolutely. Did they have the right to hasten an already disastrous traffic/drainage nightmare and destroy critical habitat? Absolutely not. So, this tragedy could, and should have been avoided, through effective communication by our Legislators, with the Felician Sisters. 
  • Rep. John Kowalko announced recently that a mere 8 acres of habitat area on W. Chestnut Hill Rd was threatened in his district. He immediately moved to action, informing his Constituents of the situation, and working with them to save the land from development. That's what effective community servants do. STOP should have been high on our Senator and Representative's agendas. That they never saw this coming, or thought that their Constituents would accept it, is troubling, to say the least. We elect officials to look out for our best interests. They must do their jobs so that we can live our lives, work and raise our families without having to fight detriments to the community. 
  • It should have been intuitively obvious well before 2015 that development of the property would be highly controversial and face fierce opposition, especially with any kind of high density and/or low income housing. If for no other reason, the land is used now as a defacto regional park, with area residents walking, playing in the fields, biking, and hiking back in the woods with their kids and dogs. Constituents have been showing all along what the best use of that land is. But no one listened to them. 
  • Executive Meyer insisted that the State NOT participate in negotiations with the Felician Sisters, and, like a spoiled child, he got his way. Since over $1M Bond Bill money was allocated toward the purchase, could State Legislators have legally and/or forcefully demanded that they too attend at negotiations? They didn't apparently. We know that Senator Townsend had a good rapport with the Sisters, speaking with them almost daily towards the end. The Senator also understood what the Sisters were trying to convey to the County with regards to their contract needs. Had he insisted to be allowed to help negotiate, this might have had a different outcome.
  • It is true that Senator Townsend and Rep. Osienski worked to gain funding from the Bond Bill Committee to be used towards the parkland purchase. This did indeed turn the tide, and give a glimmer of hope. However, it turned meaningless when negotiations, by the fault of County Executive Meyer, broke down. Could they have gone back to the Legislature, and asked for additional funding to lift the offer further, to the point where the Sisters would have felt more confident in a buyout? This is not unheard of, and has plenty of precedent. But it would have required them to put aggressive pressure on Exec. Meyer to negotiate seriously. 
  • Could they now draft legislation, and sincerely petition their colleagues in the General Assembly to revoke NCC's right to absolute control of land use matters, particularly in high profile cases such as STOP? New Castle County Council is a disgrace, whose members think that horrible decorum, shouting at each other in the Chamber, and displaying a gross disrespect for proceedings and each other is acceptable. With the exception of Councilman David Tackett, who was respectful to us and wanted to help us, no one on Council was willing to support us, but then, with the District's own Councilwoman weak in her own support, that was no surprise.
Sister Mary Christopher Moore
It is obvious that every level of government has failed us, along with a very wealthy "charitable" organization (Catholic Church) that claims to uphold christian values. They are clearly in contempt of their own church leader, who supposedly teaches the greater good over greed and profits for the few. It's no wonder that STOP was doomed from the very start, because the wheels of destruction were already turning. And like a runaway train, it was impossible to stop this plan from going forward. In spite of a exemplary campaign based upon facts, and supporting data, we could not stop this madness.

The last remaining advice we have for our followers is to become politically active, and whatever your party affiliation, vote the incumbents out of office. Write letters, editorials, create blogs, start Facebook pages, become active on social media. Get to know, and talk to, your neighbors. Use everything you have learned about this travesty from our pages. If we do not, STOP will only remain a regional issue, and quite frankly, they won't need us to win primaries and keep a hold on power.  Do not forget, ever, this evil tragedy that unfolded in our community, based purely on profits and greed, and hold responsible everyone who allowed it to happen.

    Friday, November 17, 2017

    State must act if NCC issues building permits for Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

    Senator Bryan Townsend
    Given that our State Legislators have declared STOP's (Save The Orphanage Property's) fate as purely in the hands of NCC, several of our more experienced followers are disputing this claim. Some are advising that, in light of obvious corruption and the level of embarrassment this campaign has caused, both Senator Bryan Townsend and Representative Ed Osienski draft legislation right now that proposes a return of State control over land use decisions. Or at least high profile cases, perhaps as a type of "Veto" power.

    Rep. Ed Osienski
    This is entirely justifiable given that DelDOT controls 90+% of all roads, and probably about 100% of critical roads (primary, main roads). Even though we are certain Vic Singer's allegations are on solid ground, it appears needless and inefficient that two different agencies are charged with performing a Transportation Impact Study (TIS), ultimately leading to the kind of enforcement issues we're seeing now.

    One of our followers had this to say:

    "Only DelDOT is actually in charge of the performance of the TIS even though the two agencies together are supposed to decide the design of one. They are turned in to DelDOT if their people do not do them directly. It reviews the initial work, then tells the firm that did it what needs to be improved and that firm tries again until they get it right. That's why it was so unusual that [George] Haggerty did not accept DelDOT's modification to the work of the firm that did the TIS on Route 4".

    George Haggerty
    This would indicate that Mr Haggerty is responsible for adding language to our TIS that made sure to exclude the nearby failed intersections of Salem Church Rd and :Library Ave as relevant. This is completely irregular.

    Stay tuned as we continue to monitor whether or not building permits are issued. 50 housing units is the maximum allowable under the Unified Development Code (UDC), given the failed level of service at intersections out on Route 4.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2017

    Drilling down on the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" TIS

    Save the Orphanage Property (STOP) Advocates continue fielding questions from concerned New Castle County citizens over the Traffic Impact Study (TIS) for the Chestnut Hill "Preserve". Folks want to know why the Unified Development Code was disregarded in the approval of the project by the Dept of Land Use (DLU) and the NCC Council. As a result, only two steps remain before demolition and construction will begin; closing on the sale of the property with the developer (presumably Joseph Setting II, or involving his company), and then NCC issuing the building permits. According to Senator Bryan Townsend, closing is expected by the end of this week.

    The way we see it, the developer will be doing this at their own peril. The TIS is flawed, with DelDOT's findings excluded in the scope. According to Vic Singer, this is irregular and inconsistent with County law:

    Victor Singer (13 years former
    Chair of NCC's Planning Board)
    The area of influence, under UDC Section 40.11.124, needn't extend beyond the third intersection in any direction from any access/egress feature of the proposed development unless the Land Use Department and/or DelDOT expand the scope at the scoping meeting.

    For the Chestnut Hill Preserve TIS, DelDOT did indeed add six intersections to the TIS scope, to include the Route 4 intersections with Salem Church Road and Library Avenue. And a 9/9/2016 DelDOT letter (with copies to the LU Department) reminds the TIS author of that addition and acknowledges the author's and DelDOT's finding that both above-mentioned intersections would be well into the "E" LOS range, and that no remedial system improvements are contemplated. (read Vic's entire essay)

    Here are the adjustments needed to fix the TIS:


    It should also be noted that Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) was down significantly in 2010 due to the great recession, and gas prices were approaching $4/gallon. People were consolidating trips, using other means, and/or driving less in general. If these intersections were a grade "E" in LOS in 2010, it's a virtual certainty that they're an "F" now (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 since returned to where it left off, and has continued to new record highs.

    Above: This interactive map, courtesy of Wilmapco, clearly illustrates Vic's allegation. If we examine the SR4-Salem Church Rd intersection alone, we see an "E" grade fail in 2010 (ditto for SR72-Library Ave). The odds are overwhelming that it would score an "F" if measured today, in 2017. 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 SR4, a hospital corridor and evacuation route no less.

    Let's hope that God's kindness, love of thy neighbor, charitable giving, and just plain sanity will lead to the Felician Sisters canceling whatever deal is pending with the developers, and go with a NCC/State offer instead. For a whole host of reasons too numerous to mention but thoroughly documented on this website, the correct use of the Orphanage Property is within the public realm, as a regional park.

    Friday, November 10, 2017

    Editorial: Don't let traffic overwhelm New Castle County

    Hat tip to Matt Albright of the Wilmington News Journal, for his willingness to post our editorial in Delaware On-Line today. It is planned to be the feature "DE Voice" column in Sunday's paper. In it, you will see the contrast of opinion to Richard Hall, General Manager of NCC's Dept of Land Use (DLU), who wrote this editorial on the same day. A paragraph from each best sums the difference in viewpoints:

    Hall:
    Current LOS standards consider only vehicular traffic.  Should incentives be considered for projects that include walking and bike paths, ride-sharing programs or shuttle service to transportation hubs?

    Most millennial workers do not want to be tied to their cars. They want to live in mixed use communities, walking between home, work, shopping and entertainment. And those preferences extend to increasing numbers of retirees who want to live in places where they can “age in place,” where they do not need their cars to go out to eat, shop or visit their doctors.

    Warnock:
    This argument is flawed. While the statistics show that Millennials are rediscovering the cities and driving less than their parents – and we applaud that — the same cannot be said for the suburbs. Any conclusion to the contrary cannot be a valid excuse to weaken or eliminate vehicle level of service as a tool for controlling unnecessary development.

    Mr Hall makes some good points. New Urbanism and the incorporation of multi-modal transport definitely has its place, and offers hope for the future. However, these projects are best suited to cities and more urban environments, where populations have tapered off or declined, and the infrastructure (connecting grid streets, traffic calming, effective transit, etc) is already in place and likely under-utilized. These are often referred to as "TOaDs", or, Transit Oriented Developments.

    Developments designed to reduce car dependence are not, however, viable when surrounded by suburban sprawl, disconnected streets, non-existent sidewalks, and limited transit services. Most who live in Delaware's suburbs face this predicament, having little choice for even the shortest of trips. They either drive their car, or walk or bike out to a busy arterial road to reach needed services.

    Seeing that the DLU is looking to use multi-modalism as a way to relax current Level of Service (LOS) requirements, we wrote the following email to Mr Hall today. We're asking for some study data and/or other facts concerning the success of TOaDs in the built suburban environment, as infill or destroying a region's last remaining open spaces:

    Greetings, Richard,

    I read your thoughtfully written editorial. We are wondering if you can supply us with any study data or known examples where TOaDs -- built as their own entities surrounded by typical, auto-dependent suburbs -- functioned even somewhat independently. We are looking for examples where these developments -- disconnected from surrounding communities -- still met expectations in terms of new urbanism/multi-modalism, reduced car ownership, and thus reduced or eliminated impacts on roadway/intersection LOS.

    As a big supporter of New Urbanism concepts, and someone who bicycles for ~90% of my transportation needs, I am aware of this working out well in existing dense or urban environments. Features like quality Transit, fully connected sidewalks, and calmer, grid-patterned streets are already underutilized or readily adapted for the purpose of multi-modalism.

    The message we seem to be getting from the DLU, including at the panel discussion, is that such a concept can be readily applied to DE's vast suburbs without much loss of road system LOS.

    Thank you so much and hope to hear from you soon.  --Frank Warnock

    It has never been more apparent just how eager Delaware's developers and economists are to hobble NCC's Unified Development Code (UDC), and to stop advocates from using the TIS to limit or halt needless development. Their goal is to fast track their projects, with little or no regard for its impacts on the already overwhelmed roads and intersections that will serve it.

    The idea that TOaDs can work in the suburbs as their own independent entity is laughable at best. Virtually everyone who buys into these communities will still own cars, and will drive to their job, to Wal-Mart, to their doctor, and to everything else that can only be reached outside the development.

    The Chestnut Hill "Preserve" isn't even billed as a TOaD, yet the DLU all too eagerly relaxed the TIS by eliminating failed signalized intersections in the scope.

    Let's hope sanity prevails, and the building permits for this project in its entirety are not issued.

    Saturday, September 23, 2017

    Vic Singer presents legal objections to Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

    STOP Campaign mulls Vic Singers allegations over the Traffic Impact Studies and approval of the Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

    Clearly, in our previous post and in the CLNCC's newsletter, Vic Singer presents the case for why building permits should NOT be issued for the Chestnut Hill "Preserve". However, as we all know, just having the best paid lawyer(s) can skew the law's interpretation, and decide the outcome in any case.

    It's impossible to know what the future holds. Given what appears an airtight case here, and the building permits are indeed issued, it would require finding a skilled attorney (pro-bono, obviously) to present a legal challenge and file an injunction. If someone does step up, it could drag on for years. STOP advocates have already made 3 attempts at finding an attorney pro-actively, and none would touch it given the level of work involved. In fact, one was so intimidated, he literally "got out of Dodge".

    As far as STOP is concerned, the campaign for saving the land as the last chance for a regional park in Ogletown is over. The campaign was honorably run, protecting the Sisters and our Legislators from the abusive comments, attacking them, which we would delete from this page. Every objection to the project that we published was researched, and fact-based. And in the end, although the price was almost the same, the Felician Sisters willingly sold to the developers over a few stipulations (supposedly the fault of Exec.Meyer's weak and insincere negotiations) in a sale agreement with NCC and the State. And once the deal is signed, there's no turning back. So, our job is done, simply because outside of the objections that Mr. Singer now presents, we are powerless.

    As working class citizens with FT jobs and other pursuits in the areas of environment and sustainability, we have committed every last drop of energy to the effort. The bucket ran empty as our elected leaders failed us miserably. Despite numerous attempts, local civic groups and most key environmental orgs (Audubon Society, Sierra Club, DE Wildlands, among others contacted over numerous times via e-mails/phone calls) ignored our pleas to endorse the campaign. They expect now that we're going to step back, and quietly accept this project in its entirety. There is no real guarantee either that more could be built in the future, in the remaining open space; inland wetlands protections are very weak in DE, and again, are subject to interpretation of law.

    It has never been more clear just how disenfranchised the Ogletown-S. Newark region is. We will watch helplessly as what Bond Bill money was secured for the Orphanage Property is likely re-routed to the Newark Country Club, or a Councilwoman Lisa Diller-supported bridge and pathway over the White Clay Creek. Or any number of other such (much needed, yes) projects in areas and regions where constituency matters. Councilwoman Diller's inaction showed Ogletown just what she thinks of us.

    We wish Mr Singer all the best in his effort, and can only hope that it helps to delay the development of the land. If indeed County laws were broken, and County Council delivered an illegal approval to the project, perhaps NCC will have another opportunity at purchase. But there have been several already, and now faced with $10M needed to repair a County sewer line, the odds just sunk that much further. And the fact remains that County Executive Matthew Meyer was not a strong enough advocate for this park, ever, and time after time found reasons to prevent it from happening. That, plus the fact the very developer threatening the Orphanage Property, Joseph Setting, was serving as Chair of Mr. Meyer's Parks Transition Team. We will never understand how this obvious conflict of interest was tolerated, because in his position, he had significant influence over where and how parkland was prioritized.

    You can also read Vic's article in the CLNCC's newsletter, starting on the 3rd page.