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.

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 ...]