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.