Monday, March 12, 2018

"Ogletown Park" timeline mostly subjective, unproven

The Ogletown-S. Newark Region's "Fab Four" (not)
By Angela Connolly and Frank Warnock

Part of the process of going forward and healing from the loss of the beautiful Orphanage Property to development is examining all of the circumstances which led us to where we are now. We have reviewed their lengthy, and sometimes redundant Timeline, written by Senator Bryan Townsend, and Representative Edward Osienski, where they present their side of the story in their failure to successfully provide Ogletown with the parkland that they so need, and deserve. We feel that most of their story and timeline is subjective. In other words, their word against what really should have happened since 2013. While their introductions and the timeline itself are both filled with sincerity and sentiment, and although they may have e-mails to substantiate some of their claims, much of their story is what you call "hearsay", because it cannot be substantiated or proven. In the spirit of fairness, we do acknowledge that both did step up towards the end, including getting State funds committed, and Senator Townsend making himself more available to Advocates (Rep Osienski largely ignored our e-mails, and did not attend meetings with us, allowing Sen. Townsend to take charge of communications.) But it is our opinion, after careful review of their timeline, that their efforts came too late, and contributed to the loss. It is our opinion that, by not notifying constituents early in the process, they contributed to the project progressing as far as it did.

What will soon fill the fields and woods, replacing the Orphanage
Property.
Save the Orphanage Property started this campaign to save the parcel in July 2015, just days after the Community (those who discovered it leaked, on short notice) assembled in Holy Family Church, to be shown the plans for the Affordable Housing, and the accompanying massive development of townhomes, duplexes, and single-family homes. Like most of our neighbors in Breezewood, and Todd Estates 2, we had no idea that this development was being planned. We were not asked for our input, we were TOLD what was coming. Both Legislators have admitted, verbally and in their timeline, that they were aware that the threat of development existed as early as 2013, over two full years before the July 2015 meeting. However, they did not formally notify area residents. They admitted to telling a few, off the record, to try to insinuate that people did in fact know what was going on. But the vast majority of their constituents knew nothing. And this is what we believe to be the first of many mistakes that they made. Rep. Osienski stated, on Facebook and in his introduction to the timeline, that

"Many feel more public notice and a four-year, instead of a two year, community grassroots campaign would have made the difference. I don’t believe that. I believe that if your state/county elected official have your best interest in mind and the willingness to work their tails off to achieve it, then that should be all that is needed."

We strongly disagree. We believe that, had we been notified in a timely manner, a four-year campaign would have made ALL the difference. The Felician Sisters would have heard, loud and clear, that the surrounding community would NOT be in support of such a massive development. And, we could have all worked together to help the Sisters achieve their Mission of providing Affordable Housing, (which STOP fully supported) while finding an acceptable alternative for the rest of the parcel. But we were never given a chance, because Sen. Townsend and Rep Osienski (along with Councilwoman Lisa Diller) decided that they would keep this from us, losing us precious opportunity to delay the process and work together for an alternative.

Who really belongs in Hillery's infamous "Basket of Deplorables?
Our State and County (D) legislators are definitely in the running.
Some area residents have suggested that they may have perhaps deliberately stalled going public from 2013-15, to ensure that Exec Gordon would be "out of the way" from any effort to help with another park, as his exemplary conservation record shows would have been the case. We can't help but agree, because we do know that Exec Gordon was in fact supportive of STOP.

Do we actually want to believe that Sen. Townsend and Rep. Osienski acted in such a nefarious way? Of course not. But how do we know that? Should we simply disregard the backgrounds that these two come from; a law firm that deals first hand with high dollar LLC interests, and a Union man who may well put temporary construction jobs before our environment? Both of whom concocted and drove through HB-190, angering Environmentalists and key Environmental organizations, under the guise of creating "jobs", when in fact DE's unemployment rate is relatively low at 4.1%? And don't forget the large numbers of developer-friendly people who contributed to their campaigns. Their own records prove that they are not friends of the Environment, that saving Open Space is not their priority.

And so after careful review, here is a list summarizing our findings, to share the inconsistencies that we uncovered. Here are the key points...

1) Senator Townsend and Rep. Osienski, from the time that they claim to have been made aware of the possibility of development in 2013, over two years before the July 2015 Public Meeting at Holy Family Church, failed to notify their Constituents in writing to each and every affected household. They did not engage those who would be directly affected, such as those homeowners immediately bordering the property, in time for them to voice their concerns. Advocates were never given the chance to participate with Legislators, the Felician Sisters, and their neighbors in finding an acceptable alternative to the massive and devastating development that we are now facing. They failed to hold early public meetings, which should have been advertised and specifically addressing the possibility of development.

2) Senator Townsend and Rep Osienski failed to communicate with the Felician Sisters in a manner where they would have been made aware of how the Sisters were progressing in their plans for development. Their Timeline shows large portions of time gone by where they failed to reach out to the Sisters to check on the progress of the tax credit that the Sisters intended to keep applying for.

3) In spite of the strong photographic and other evidence presented by homeowners, Senator Townsend and Rep Osienski failed to address, and fight for, the very real drainage/flooding concerns of their constituents in Todd Estates 2 and Breezewood, who will likely suffer even worse personal and financial consequences as this development goes through as planned. Although they did visit some neighbors who had flooding issues, it was reported to us by those neighbors (who are willing to be identified if necessary) that these concerns were not taken seriously.

If this isn't a Conflict of Interest, nothing is. Both the developer
(Setting) and the attorney representing the seller (Hoffman) were
appointed Chair positions on Exec Meyer's NCC Parks Team.
4) Senator Townsend and Rep Osienski failed to object to the appointment of Joseph Setting as Chair to County Exec. Meyer's Parks Transition Team. They were both aware that Setting had a vested interest in developing the Orphanage Property, and so they were morally and ethically bound to raise an objection, protect their Constituents, and cite that the appt of Setting to this position was a conflict of interest. However, they did not. With the Campaign over, and the land forever lost, Senator Townsend recently went one cruel step further, by claiming that the appointment of Setting was indeed NOT a conflict, because Setting's Team did prioritize the need for Ogletown parkland as #3. We have repeatedly pointed out to Townsend that, at #3, STOP could never become a reality in time to stop the bulldozers. And it was the very last chance at a regional park, given the lack of significant open space inventory both here and throughout most of NCC today. Mr Setting's (along with Michael Hoffman, an attorney representing the Sisters) appointment to Parks Transition would make absolute sure of that.

5) Senator Townsend and Rep Osienski failed to respond to, or investigate, the legality of the Traffic Impact Study. Sen Townsend said that he read the County Law, and from his perspective, he felt the study was acceptable. Advocates -- one of whom served 13 years as Chair of the NCC Planning Board -- brought forth claims that the TIS was flawed and incorrectly recorded to exclude failed signalized intersections that, by law, must be included. This means that, by law, building over 50 units in total would be illegal -- and so the development can be, and should be halted. Despite numerous pleas from Advocates imploring them to investigate this claim and object to the project on that basis, both refuse to address this issue. Senator Townsend also stated to Advocates that the development would have virtually no impact on Rt 4's already failed vehicle Level of Service (LOS).

We hope that you will consider all of the points presented here, and that you will re-read their Timeline and conclude for yourself what we have already concluded - that, no matter what they say otherwise, these legislators failed their Constituents by not acting at an earlier date, in time for this project to be halted before it was too late. We believe that their failure to do so ultimately contributed to this development progressing to a point where it was too late to stop it from happening. Their efforts came too late, and contributed to the loss. And we believe that, for this, they must take responsibility and answer to their constituents.

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