Thursday, January 11, 2018

Save The Orphanage Property 4th and final Press Release

STOP has finally reached an end; Ryan Homes moving forward with Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

On Dec 11, Joe Setting and Bob Sippel (the developers) were taken out to brunch, basically getting them to the table. The goal was to find out if there was still the remotest possibility that they might consider a buyout offer for the Orphanage Property. It became apparent that both were sympathetic to the cause, and willing to consider a sale price of just over $7M. And with that, the County and State would be gifted another chance to negotiate a deal.

Unfortunately, this did not materialize in writing due to, again, lack of County commitment. New Castle County Executive Matthew Meyer was heard saying that he would consider $3M for County Council to vote on, but wanted no part in the buyout or logistics in any agreement. As the State is ill-equipped, this would leave nobody to oversee the transaction.

Despite the County, it appears that over half of the needed funding had come together on the State side, but without NCC contributing in the manner necessary, it simply wouldn't happen. Councilwoman Diller has put no known effort into convincing Meyer or her colleagues of the importance of pursuing STOP. When it comes to political will, there is nothing we as citizens can do to change it, except in the voting booth, after it's too late. And even then, by virtue of how districts are gerrymandered, even Mrs Diller as an incumbent is considered "safe" for future terms in office.

As seen early on during the first sale opportunity with the Felician Sisters, nothing in either Diller or Meyer's actions suggested that they want STOP to happen. And now, despite the gift of a second opportunity, they have chosen to run out the clock instead.

While the State has appeared the hero in all of this, it cannot be forgotten that all of STOP's district electeds were aware of the Felician Sisters attempts to develop the property as far back as 2011. No one seems to recall any of them bringing this to the community, its leaders, or the press as a "code red". They did not see the value in any of the points and arguments that STOP presented over the last 2 years. Had it been put on the radar, even in 2013, we would have worked under Exec Gordon's watch well before this Chestnut Hill "Preserve" was even conceived, and very likely achieved the outcome that Ogletown so desperately wanted and deserved.

The pre-construction meeting between NCC Land Use Dept and Ryan Homes (builders) took place yesterday. Earth movers are expected to commence clearing, grading, laying the roads, and digging the utilities in the coming days or weeks, according to the DLU. Actual building permits will come in May.

The dream of doing something great for the community is over, and will soon be replaced by a nightmare that nobody wants. Gone is bringing folks together for the sake of the planet, to preserve our quality of life, and address the need for place making in Ogletown. Now, the region will never be the same, nor will they ever have another chance at something like this.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Political will remains the final hurdle for STOP

Here is the current (potential) buyout situation for STOP. The campaign continues, despite dangling by a thread. Much of these details have been posted on the organization's Facebook page in recent posts:

Verbal sale offer from developer of $7.14M (still need that in writing)
  • New Castle County Exec Meyer claims he's still in it with a $3M co-pay (need that in writing), but traditionally, the County -- at the very least -- splits the total cost in a joint buyout with the State. NCC should handle the actual sale proposal and agreement, and from there, any zoning or other DLU issues and then it becomes a County or Regional Park. But Meyer is signaling that, since the fallout with the Nuns (along with Advocate's publicizing/politicizing his developer ties), he wants no part in the logistics.
  • Assuming the developer will not wait until June when the Bond Committee meets and can vote on funding, and Meyer doesn't commit in writing to bring at least $3.57M (or half the buyout price) before Council vote, Sen Townsend and Rep Osienski will likely go before the BC as early as Jan (next month) to make "an impossible ask" of full State funding for the property.
What needs to happen?
  • Developer commits to selling for $7.14M (or other, reasonable) in writing, along with any other asks, such as payment timeline if such is allowed. Senator Townsend is attempting contact now to confirm this is coming.
  • Exec. Meyer commits in writing to bring half the buyout cost before NCC asap, and handle any logistical aspects that only the County can.
  • Townsend and Osienski go before the Bond Committee in Jan (soon) and make the request for a "mini" bond bill to line up the funding, the best chances coming with progress on the above two.
Other notes:
  • We are told that the ~$1M in donor funds originally set aside for STOP is no longer available, having been put toward Beaver Valley.
  • The status of the original $1.25 set aside in the Bond Bill (since Exec Meyer negotiating) is not known. If it still exists, the ask would be that much less.
  • It is not clear if anything remains set-aside from the Open Space Council, which was originally in for $0.25M.
  • Though the developer has indicated a sale possibility, it is going to be more difficult as compared to the Felician Sisters. For one thing, the option for a multi-year buyout is all but lost, at least barring high interest.
STOP Advocates will forever insist that political will has been the #1 obstacle. That, and a "charitable", very wealthy, religious organization that placed financial gain over the greater good. Few words can describe.

We, as citizen advocates, have left no stone unturned, with every one coming up an epic fail. For those of you joining us later, this also includes the 10-9 campaign, and open space as a plank in the Democrat party platform.

The fight for justice in this matter must go on. Email us ASAP if you can be available to join us in any upcoming rallies, demonstrations, or other presence that may be needed, i.e. during a legislative vote on funding:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Is Meyer's Fundraiser a lure for development interests?

Advocates can't help questioning if New Castle County Executive Matthew Meyer has geared recent land use events to coincide with his first fundraiser on December 7. There was that ridiculous "Panel Discussion on Traffic Impact Requirements for New Development" on October 18th, where multi-modalism was discussed as the possible answer to relaxing traffic LOS standards. Advocates in attendance were forbidden from asking questions aloud; only via index card.

It could easily be felt that Exec Meyer has "strutted his stuff", where putting the brakes on open space and farmland preservation efforts is concerned. He threw away the Orphanage Property, and allowed millions in federal acquisition funds to expire. Added up, it's the ultimate lure for development interests and gaining top dollar at a fundraiser.

These are very sad times we live in for saving open space in NCC where it's truly needed. Based on the evidence so far, expect little or no support from Mr Meyer when it comes to using County funds for acquisition efforts -- regardless of how critical. And this comes at a time when, according to the Democrat's own Stephanie Hansen, we are facing a "state-wide ecological extinction".

Funny that the initial invitation (below) showed that it was possible to donate as much as $1,200 per head to the Meyer campaign, but this is illegal -- and later corrected. The maximum allowed by law for a County candidate is $600. Never the less, it must be pretty dire if a fundraiser is already needed in the first year of his first term.

More to come, we're sure . . .

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.