Sunday, August 27, 2017

Money, political comatose ends the STOP campaign

Another article in the Wilmington News Journal today confirms that the STOP (Save The Orphanage Property) campaign has officially ended in defeat. While most would expect it was the outcome of a price bidding war between government and developer interests, that was anything but the case. Multiple examples of dishonesty, and/or a gross lack of political will are to blame, and will go down as having ended the Ogletown-S. Newark's last hope for a regional park --- forever.

Instead, they have ensured us thousands more car trips per day on an already failed LOS (level of service) Route 4 corridor, and all kinds of havoc on multiple quality of life issues that have been thoroughly documented on this website. These include loss in real estate values, destruction of endangered wildlife habitat, paving over vast swaths of already flood-prone land, etc.

The following was gleaned directly from the WNJ article. It more than substantiates STOP's claim of dishonesty and political comatose, by those who we elected to represent our best interests. We italicized comments that are either suspect or conflicting:

  • [Mark Schafale, Felician Sisters of North America] expects his organization on Friday to finalize an agreement to sell 172 acres to a housing developer. That agreement ends a two-year push for government to derail the development by purchasing the land for a park.

  • "It is hard to put blame on one, two or three people," said Angela Connolly, one of the founding members of the Save the Orphanage Property Facebook group. "There are so many players in this nasty tragedy comedy."

  • "It isn't fair to say the sisters are trying to profit from this," Schafale said.

  • "I just don't think the county ever understood or chose to look at it from our perspective," Schafale said.

  • Meyer’s first publicly disclosed offer for the property came in July. The offer was rejected, prompting state Sens. Bryan Townsend and Ed Osienski, both D-Newark, to criticize Meyer for offering too little and suggesting the executive didn’t really want to get a deal done.

  • Meyer has criticized Townsend, saying the state legislator had said he could secure the entire $6 million purchase through the state. Ultimately, the Legislature committed $1.25 million in a bill that also made it easier for the Sisters to build the apartments without the entire development. Schafale said that was a boost to the park effort.

  • Townsend said that money was approved with the understanding he'd be seeking more to cover the state's half of the cost. He denies that he ever represented the state would pay the entire purchase price.

  • On Thursday, Townsend said the land being sold is "deeply disappointing" and the county had not acted with the urgency necessary to close a deal.

  • "Oddly, it was like pulling teeth to try to get the urgency from them on behalf of the public," Townsend said.

  • Meyer brushed off that criticism saying he had made four offers for the property without receiving a single written counter.

  • "If you make four written offers to buy a property ... and you never receive a single counteroffer in writing, who is being insincere?" Meyer said.

  • Schafale said Meyer's first two offers were "non-starters" because there was no acceptable path to executing the apartment development without the houses. He added his organization was in regular communication with the county about what was necessary for them to reach a deal.

  • "Our representatives laid out in very precise terms what we needed, and there was significant movement on that in August but it wasn't everything and wasn't enough," Schafale said.

We have nothing else to say at this point, except that with this level of government dysfunction, we cannot be called a "democracy". No wonder so few citizens attend civic meetings and legislator coffees -- why bother when you don't have a voice? Shame on all of our elected that we are going to lose this magnificent (and only remaining) parkland opportunity for the Ogletown-S. Newark region. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The myth of added tax base with new residential development

A 2006 study highlights the fiscal impacts of land uses on local government. It is no mystery that each new housing unit built in DE costs approximately $1.25 in required govt services for every $1 in new taxes generated. Yet the developers have most folks believing the opposite is true. Excerpts:

Around the country, about one million acres of farmland per year are being developed for other uses. Local governments, especially in rural areas, often have difficulty financing the services that come with this development and are constantly looking for ways to improve their financial health. Local government officials often believe that one solution to their government’s financial difficulties lies through development, by increasing the property tax base; however, a growing body of empirical evidence shows that while commercial and industrial development can indeed improve the financial well being of a local government, residential development worsens it. While residential development brings with it new tax (and fee) revenue, it also brings demand for local government services. The cost of providing these services exceeds the revenue generated by the new houses in every case studied (American Farmland Trust).

Growth and development policies are in the spotlight in many areas of the country. newspapers eagerly print lists of the fastest growing counties in the U.S. State governments compete against each other for new business investments from large employers. Redevelopment and revitalization efforts in downtown urban areas continue to be pushed, and often succeed. Everybody wants growth in their city, town, county or state, but only specific types of growth. To make things more confusing, different people want different types of growth. Some want new residential development, thinking more people and houses represent new taxable property and new vitality for a community. . .

This report examines some of that evidence, documenting likely fiscal impacts of residential developments, commercial/industrial developments, and farm/forest (undeveloped) lands. I will discuss the results of many specific fiscal studies of counties around the country and some other evidence on fiscal impacts of land use types and patterns. [Full article . . .]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

An open letter to the Felician Sisters of North America

An open letter from Matt McNulty to the Felician Sisters of N. America, in response to their embracing and moving forward with the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" project.

I grew up in a home that borders a property you own in Newark, Delaware - its proper name is Ogletown. You've operated an orphanage and pre-school on the property for many years that has been shut down for the last several. As a child I played on that land, pretty much everyday. Sister Natalie was one of the main caretakers at that time (may she rest in peace) and would interact with us kids quite often - mostly if we were out there digging holes and doing something we shouldn't have been. The Orphanage and Pre-school were good stewards of your mission.

Over the last several years you've been looking for a suitable buyer for the land, which is your right as the owner of an asset, to find a buyer willing to pay you fair market value, however you determine that to be - the beauty of this great country we live in. It has come to my attention that you were so very close to selling to New Castle County, so they could maintain it as an open space and parkland, but that deal fell just slightly short in terms of asking price and what you wanted to sell it for...

Give what you stand for (your published mission), and Pope Francis' comments, I find it hard to believe you chose not to sell to New Castle County for what seems to be a few hundred thousand, on a $6mm purchase.

"We bring the Word of God and God’s healing presence to all whom we serve, striving to bring light where there is darkness, hope where there is despair, and mercy and compassion to a world in need of healing."

You are not bringing any of this to our community with the planning to build 200+ homes that will be priced higher than the current homes for sale in the area! Additionally, there are over 17,000 vacant homes in New Castle County. I think the community supports your planned apartments and the help that will provide to those in need.

There are currently 140+ homes for sale in this exact area for less than the 200+ you plan to build.

Your order was founded and created by Sophia, who went on to become Mother Angela in the likeness of Saint Francis of Assisi, who was associated with the patronage of animals and the natural environment, which evolved into blessing animals on his feast day, and is known as the "patron saint of animals", but you're going to destroy and/or degrade 180+ acres of what the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control deemed "Natural Area"?!?

Here are some examples of rare species you'll be displacing (professional word choice). Several on the tier 1 and 2 endangered list:

The only fitting ending to this tale would be the destruction to begin on October 4th, the feast day of yours truly Saint Francis Assisi, so we can run all the animals them into Holy Family Church for a blessing as the land is destroyed, but am guessing it will happen much earlier.

All of this for a few hundred thousand dollars - I'll spare you the already struggling Christina School district that this development only adds pressure, the blue collar community that will be faced with higher insurance premiums and the prospect of needing flood insurance, and the fear of losing all should their homes flood, the increased traffic and the corresponding danger that comes along.

None of this aligns with your mission, so I feel like you're being ill advised by whomever your business leaders are, or you're taking a blind eye to it for the economics - which is your right...but at the end of the day don't spin it, just own it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

STOP: With catastrophic loss, Officials must provide formal statements

STOP's core advocates met on August 13, and decided that it's time to stop playing political shell games. Since every one of our elected officials and the Felician Sisters leadership have very conflicting stories about their involvement and how they failed so miserably, we decided it's time for each to lay it all on the line -- in writing.

To cement each ones claim that they have worked their hardest to achieve a fair and binding sale agreement with the Felician Sisters, we are asking that they issue us a formal statement. We would like to see this outlined in writing, along with copies of relevant paperwork. It will be their chance to lift some of their political liability, if it's found that they did give it all.

Throughout this entire mess, they too have acted angry and disgusted, sometimes toward STOP Advocates for pressuring them. Bursts of poor decorum resulted. We hope they know and understand too what it feels like to be an advocate in this disaster, and being misled to the point of total confusion. Conflicting arguments were being made between County, State, and Sister's representatives, and we have no idea who to believe. With that, we do want to believe our electeds, and that somehow, this is just some big misunderstanding.

We already have letters and correspondence from the Felician Sisters and their Chief Financial Officer Mark Schafale, but nothing really specific in terms of where they (mainly NCC) fell short. From them, it was always simply "it just didn't work out" or other ambiguous reasoning.

And with that, we approached NCC Executive Matthew Meyer first, and within minutes, he responded with a quick note of confidence and willingness to participate. As follows:

"Thanks. I will ask the county lawyers tomorrow if it is okay to release the documents which will break lawyer client privilege. I have no problem with it. I honestly do not want to play a blame game, even if that means everyone in the community blames me. That is okay so long as I do not do anything that jeopardizes our ability to win this thing in the future.

As I think I mentioned to you, I have been involved in many transactions in the past in which they were over and done with and then they came back (We know it has already happened once here). Don't want to create false hope. I just want to keep the door open slightly until it is slammed and locked." -- Matt

Unfortunately, all indications are (and according to Mark Schafale himself), the door has already slammed and locked. By written word of the Felician Sisters, the developer signed the final contract on August 11.

Hopefully there will be more to come. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) campaign defeated

Clearing the property will start in the coming days or weeks
As of August 8, continued talks between New Castle County Executive Matthew Meyer and the Felician Sisters of North America broke down for the last time after failing to negotiate a few minor contractual terms. With a vote from the Sister's board of directors, a developer is now lined up to buy the land at barely over the appraised value ($5.9M) that was originally offered by Mr Meyer. They will now go forward with the apartments, high density townhomes in the field space, and upscale houses replacing a large portion of woods and wetlands. Since the project plans are now fully completed, construction could begin at any moment.

As we look back on this tragic loss and gross injustice, a win for the disenfranchised residents of Ogletown-S. Newark just wasn’t in the cards. STOP advocates left no stone unturned, looking for any opportunity that would save this beautiful land and bring them a regional park. It was an exemplary citizen advocacy campaign that stuck to the facts, maintained decorum, and promoted full respect for our elected officials and the Nuns. Their core group included Donald Sharpe, who along with Dorothy Miller, helped save the White Clay Creek State Park. Also included was a NCC Tax Ditch Manager, an experienced environmental scientist and grant writer (who tirelessly sought other public and private funding sources), and a few other hard working citizen advocates who lived in the area. More than enough government funds were identified, including $1.25M in the State's Bond Bill, and even more in NCC's Parks budget. Significant private donor funds, totaling $1M or more, were also identified, with more under discussion. Further, the Felician Sisters offered to allow payments over 5+ years. You just couldn't have found a better offer, which amounted to a half price bargain for NCC. Ten organizations and multitudes of residents supported the STOP campaign, including almost a thousand following on multi-media alone. STOP yard signs dotted the neighborhoods.

Save The Orphanage Property's last act as an organization will be a final press release, with the facts as we know them. We will try to explain what has happened, why it happened, and who the few are (or the one) that allowed this to happen. One thing we do know for certain; after a long two years of advocacy and many sleepless nights, STOP ended in a total collapse of government representation of its citizens. It is something that the people will never, ever forgive their elected officials (and much of the Catholic Church) for. The Chestnut Hill "Preserve" will forever serve as a daily reminder of government incompetence, indifference, lack of empathy, and profiteering en-mass. Like a huge monument it will forever stay, always there to remind us that ordinary and working class folks mean little or nothing to them. We are no longer part of a democracy that represents the majority, but rather, a tiny minority of wealthy elite.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Save The Orphanage Property: Update

The Orphanage Property in the Autumn of 2016
This is our latest understanding about the fate of the Orphanage Property.

The Felician Sisters of North America entered into a contract in mid-April to sell the bulk of the Orphanage Property (beyond their affordable housing project) to a new, local developer. They included a provision allowing them to “opt out” of that contract if the county was able to present a fair and workable offer. After two months, and no further response (beyond an offer of appraised value only) from Executive Meyer and New Castle County, that option was allowed to expire in June. The onus is now on the new developer (unknown at this time) to buy the property, which still carries some flexibility to exit the contract if they so choose. A 16 day extension was recently granted, giving the developer additional time to decide whether or not to move forward with the purchase, which would then become irrevocable. That extension will, apparently, run out one day next week.

According to sources in the know, there is a very slight chance on the buyer’s (new developer) side that may allow the “window of opportunity" to re-open. Indeed, the buyer could still back out. As of right now, both buyer and seller have agreed on 90+% of terms. If the final 10% falls through, the County/State would have a chance to step up -- but it would only be successful if Executive Meyer and NCC are serious and ready to put up a fair offer. This would include funds to cover at least half of the project (Chestnut Hill "Preserve) planning costs up to this time.

In the words of Mark Schafale, the Felician Sister's Chief Financial Officer:

I am sorry we were unable to work out an alternative arrangement with the county prior to that expiration. We certainly did everything we could to cooperate with discussions in that direction, but it just did not get done. The sisters believe strongly that God is watching over this process, and that if the park is meant to be, something will emerge to make that happen. But for now, we are awaiting our buyer’s final decision as to whether to move forward with the purchase (which will eventually lead to the building of the other 200 housing units). That is where things stand and we will try to keep you informed as things continue to unfold.

Again, these are the "facts" as we know them. They are derived from multiple sources, including our elected leaders and the Felician Sisters themselves, and are all we have to go on. Barring a miracle, we have forever lost this invaluable opportunity on Executive Meyer's refusal to offer above the appraised value of $5.9M, and the Sister's (and Mr Meyer's) refusal to put the desperate pleas and needs of thousands of real people before maximum financial gain. It's a very sad day for New Castle County, looking at the kind of environment that we (and those claiming the highest of righteousness) are planning to leave for those that come after us.

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.