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.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2017

    Drilling down on the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" TIS

    Save the Orphanage Property (STOP) Advocates continue fielding questions from concerned New Castle County citizens over the Traffic Impact Study (TIS) for the Chestnut Hill "Preserve". Folks want to know why the Unified Development Code was disregarded in the approval of the project by the Dept of Land Use (DLU) and the NCC Council. As a result, only two steps remain before demolition and construction will begin; closing on the sale of the property with the developer (presumably Joseph Setting II, or involving his company), and then NCC issuing the building permits. According to Senator Bryan Townsend, closing is expected by the end of this week.

    The way we see it, the developer will be doing this at their own peril. The TIS is flawed, with DelDOT's findings excluded in the scope. According to Vic Singer, this is irregular and inconsistent with County law:

    Victor Singer (13 years former
    Chair of NCC's Planning Board)
    The area of influence, under UDC Section 40.11.124, needn't extend beyond the third intersection in any direction from any access/egress feature of the proposed development unless the Land Use Department and/or DelDOT expand the scope at the scoping meeting.

    For the Chestnut Hill Preserve TIS, DelDOT did indeed add six intersections to the TIS scope, to include the Route 4 intersections with Salem Church Road and Library Avenue. And a 9/9/2016 DelDOT letter (with copies to the LU Department) reminds the TIS author of that addition and acknowledges the author's and DelDOT's finding that both above-mentioned intersections would be well into the "E" LOS range, and that no remedial system improvements are contemplated. (read Vic's entire essay)

    Here are the adjustments needed to fix the TIS:

    It should also be noted that Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) was down significantly in 2010 due to the great recession, and gas prices were approaching $4/gallon. People were consolidating trips, using other means, and/or driving less in general. If these intersections were a grade "E" in LOS in 2010, it's a virtual certainty that they're an "F" now (for a simple chart showing each grade and the delays involved, open the CMS report and turn to page 3).
    As seen in this FHWA trend above, national VMT dropped significantly in 2010. The result was gasoline "demand destruction", which triggered a surplus resulting in the record low (adjusted for inflation) pump prices we are seeing today. VMT since returned to where it left off, and has continued to new record highs.

    Above: This interactive map, courtesy of Wilmapco, clearly illustrates Vic's allegation. If we examine the SR4-Salem Church Rd intersection alone, we see an "E" grade fail in 2010 (ditto for SR72-Library Ave). The odds are overwhelming that it would score an "F" if measured today, in 2017. Not that it makes a whole lot of difference, since both letters are a fail and come under the same UDC rules. But it does show how dire the situation is out on SR4, a hospital corridor and evacuation route no less.

    Let's hope that God's kindness, love of thy neighbor, charitable giving, and just plain sanity will lead to the Felician Sisters canceling whatever deal is pending with the developers, and go with a NCC/State offer instead. For a whole host of reasons too numerous to mention but thoroughly documented on this website, the correct use of the Orphanage Property is within the public realm, as a regional park.

    Friday, November 10, 2017

    Editorial: Don't let traffic overwhelm New Castle County

    Hat tip to Matt Albright of the Wilmington News Journal, for his willingness to post our editorial in Delaware On-Line today. It is planned to be the feature "DE Voice" column in Sunday's paper. In it, you will see the contrast of opinion to Richard Hall, General Manager of NCC's Dept of Land Use (DLU), who wrote this editorial on the same day. A paragraph from each best sums the difference in viewpoints:

    Current LOS standards consider only vehicular traffic.  Should incentives be considered for projects that include walking and bike paths, ride-sharing programs or shuttle service to transportation hubs?

    Most millennial workers do not want to be tied to their cars. They want to live in mixed use communities, walking between home, work, shopping and entertainment. And those preferences extend to increasing numbers of retirees who want to live in places where they can “age in place,” where they do not need their cars to go out to eat, shop or visit their doctors.

    This argument is flawed. While the statistics show that Millennials are rediscovering the cities and driving less than their parents – and we applaud that — the same cannot be said for the suburbs. Any conclusion to the contrary cannot be a valid excuse to weaken or eliminate vehicle level of service as a tool for controlling unnecessary development.

    Mr Hall makes some good points. New Urbanism and the incorporation of multi-modal transport definitely has its place, and offers hope for the future. However, these projects are best suited to cities and more urban environments, where populations have tapered off or declined, and the infrastructure (connecting grid streets, traffic calming, effective transit, etc) is already in place and likely under-utilized. These are often referred to as "TOaDs", or, Transit Oriented Developments.

    Developments designed to reduce car dependence are not, however, viable when surrounded by suburban sprawl, disconnected streets, non-existent sidewalks, and limited transit services. Most who live in Delaware's suburbs face this predicament, having little choice for even the shortest of trips. They either drive their car, or walk or bike out to a busy arterial road to reach needed services.

    Seeing that the DLU is looking to use multi-modalism as a way to relax current Level of Service (LOS) requirements, we wrote the following email to Mr Hall today. We're asking for some study data and/or other facts concerning the success of TOaDs in the built suburban environment, as infill or destroying a region's last remaining open spaces:

    Greetings, Richard,

    I read your thoughtfully written editorial. We are wondering if you can supply us with any study data or known examples where TOaDs -- built as their own entities surrounded by typical, auto-dependent suburbs -- functioned even somewhat independently. We are looking for examples where these developments -- disconnected from surrounding communities -- still met expectations in terms of new urbanism/multi-modalism, reduced car ownership, and thus reduced or eliminated impacts on roadway/intersection LOS.

    As a big supporter of New Urbanism concepts, and someone who bicycles for ~90% of my transportation needs, I am aware of this working out well in existing dense or urban environments. Features like quality Transit, fully connected sidewalks, and calmer, grid-patterned streets are already underutilized or readily adapted for the purpose of multi-modalism.

    The message we seem to be getting from the DLU, including at the panel discussion, is that such a concept can be readily applied to DE's vast suburbs without much loss of road system LOS.

    Thank you so much and hope to hear from you soon.  --Frank Warnock

    It has never been more apparent just how eager Delaware's developers and economists are to hobble NCC's Unified Development Code (UDC), and to stop advocates from using the TIS to limit or halt needless development. Their goal is to fast track their projects, with little or no regard for its impacts on the already overwhelmed roads and intersections that will serve it.

    The idea that TOaDs can work in the suburbs as their own independent entity is laughable at best. Virtually everyone who buys into these communities will still own cars, and will drive to their job, to Wal-Mart, to their doctor, and to everything else that can only be reached outside the development.

    The Chestnut Hill "Preserve" isn't even billed as a TOaD, yet the DLU all too eagerly relaxed the TIS by eliminating failed signalized intersections in the scope.

    Let's hope sanity prevails, and the building permits for this project in its entirety are not issued.

    Saturday, September 23, 2017

    Vic Singer presents legal objections to Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

    STOP Campaign mulls Vic Singers allegations over the Traffic Impact Studies and approval of the Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

    Clearly, in our previous post and in the CLNCC's newsletter, Vic Singer presents the case for why building permits should NOT be issued for the Chestnut Hill "Preserve". However, as we all know, just having the best paid lawyer(s) can skew the law's interpretation, and decide the outcome in any case.

    It's impossible to know what the future holds. Given what appears an airtight case here, and the building permits are indeed issued, it would require finding a skilled attorney (pro-bono, obviously) to present a legal challenge and file an injunction. If someone does step up, it could drag on for years. STOP advocates have already made 3 attempts at finding an attorney pro-actively, and none would touch it given the level of work involved. In fact, one was so intimidated, he literally "got out of Dodge".

    As far as STOP is concerned, the campaign for saving the land as the last chance for a regional park in Ogletown is over. The campaign was honorably run, protecting the Sisters and our Legislators from the abusive comments, attacking them, which we would delete from this page. Every objection to the project that we published was researched, and fact-based. And in the end, although the price was almost the same, the Felician Sisters willingly sold to the developers over a few stipulations (supposedly the fault of Exec.Meyer's weak and insincere negotiations) in a sale agreement with NCC and the State. And once the deal is signed, there's no turning back. So, our job is done, simply because outside of the objections that Mr. Singer now presents, we are powerless.

    As working class citizens with FT jobs and other pursuits in the areas of environment and sustainability, we have committed every last drop of energy to the effort. The bucket ran empty as our elected leaders failed us miserably. Despite numerous attempts, local civic groups and most key environmental orgs (Audubon Society, Sierra Club, DE Wildlands, among others contacted over numerous times via e-mails/phone calls) ignored our pleas to endorse the campaign. They expect now that we're going to step back, and quietly accept this project in its entirety. There is no real guarantee either that more could be built in the future, in the remaining open space; inland wetlands protections are very weak in DE, and again, are subject to interpretation of law.

    It has never been more clear just how disenfranchised the Ogletown-S. Newark region is. We will watch helplessly as what Bond Bill money was secured for the Orphanage Property is likely re-routed to the Newark Country Club, or a Councilwoman Lisa Diller-supported bridge and pathway over the White Clay Creek. Or any number of other such (much needed, yes) projects in areas and regions where constituency matters. Councilwoman Diller's inaction showed Ogletown just what she thinks of us.

    We wish Mr Singer all the best in his effort, and can only hope that it helps to delay the development of the land. If indeed County laws were broken, and County Council delivered an illegal approval to the project, perhaps NCC will have another opportunity at purchase. But there have been several already, and now faced with $10M needed to repair a County sewer line, the odds just sunk that much further. And the fact remains that County Executive Matthew Meyer was not a strong enough advocate for this park, ever, and time after time found reasons to prevent it from happening. That, plus the fact the very developer threatening the Orphanage Property, Joseph Setting, was serving as Chair of Mr. Meyer's Parks Transition Team. We will never understand how this obvious conflict of interest was tolerated, because in his position, he had significant influence over where and how parkland was prioritized.

    You can also read Vic's article in the CLNCC's newsletter, starting on the 3rd page.

    Friday, September 22, 2017


    Cross-posted from County Comments, Newsletter of the Civic League for NCC

    By Vic Singer | A News Journal Aug 25 article erected a tombstone on the effort to force County or State government to buy the former Route 4 orphanage parcel -- "Chestnut Hill Preserve" -- for use as a public park. It was futile because standing law neither demands -- nor prohibits -- that outcome. The battle over the opposite situation -- what constitutes lawful and timely use of the parcel -- is about to begin.

    The controlling law in New Castle County is the Unified Development Code, UDC, Chapter 40 of the County Code, enacted long ago by NCC Council. The "Intent" paragraph of UDC Article 1 and the "Purpose" paragraph of UDC Article 5 announce that the purpose of the UDC is to implement the County's Comprehensive Development Plan by establishing controls enabling development of parcels of land no worse than concurrently with the infrastructure needed to support the occupants of the parcels.

    Section 40.01.015 "Intent" says: "This Chapter is intended to protect the interests of both current and future County residents and neighbors from the potential adverse impacts of land uses. At the same time, this Chapter is intended to respect landowners' rights to the beneficial use of their property. The regulations contained in this Chapter were designed to encourage greater flexibility and more development options while minimizing development impact on current property owners and the environment."

    And Section 40.05.000 "Purpose" says: "This Article establishes the actual development capacity of individual sites based on current adequacy ("concurrency") of roads, water, sewers, and schools."

    Section 40.05.000 continues as follows: "This Article requires an applicant for a rezoning, subdivision development plan or land development plan to conduct a carrying capacity analysis which regulates the maximum intensity of development based on actual infrastructure capacity. The carrying capacity analysis is designed to ensure that the public health, safety, welfare and quality of life of the citizens of this County are protected by preventing development from exceeding the existing carrying capacity of public facilities needed to sustain the proposed development."

    Several varieties of infrastructure are listed in Section 40.05.000. Transportation system capacity is addressed as follows: "The County has numerous areas of congestion that may limit the development potential of a site. Each proposed development is allocated capacity based upon a traffic impact study for the proposed development. The allocation of this capacity sets a maximum development potential for each site." Later in the UDC, Section 40.11.210 establishes as the threshold of acceptability, the "D" Level of Service (LOS) in publicly sewered areas. It also provides that an intersection presently serving at the "E" LOS is acceptable if improvements already being constructed or covered by existing DelDOT contracts for construction will bring LOS to the "D" level.

    The UDC's Section 40.11.000 states that "The purpose of this Article is to ensure that development occurs only where there are adequate transportation facilities in place, or programmed for construction. Transportation capacity is allocated to proposed land developments on a first come-first serve basis. The highway capacity shall be determined by a traffic impact study. No major land development or any rezoning shall be permitted if the proposed development exceeds the level of service standards set forth in this Article unless the traffic mitigation or the waiver provisions of this Article can be satisfied."

    And the UDC's Division 40.11.100 requires that the applicant for a proposed development submit projected additional traffic on and off peak and describe existing conditions including LOS, to support determining whether a Traffic Impact Study, TIS, is needed. If 50 or fewer peak hour trips are to be added, a TIS isn't required. If more than 50 trips are projected, the applicant must submit a TIS covering a study area, area of influence, established in a Scoping Meeting under Section 40.11.122. The area of influence, under UDC Section 40.11.124, needn't extend beyond the third intersection in any direction from any access/egress feature of the proposed development unless the Land Use Department and/or DelDOT expand the scope at the scoping meeting.

    For the Chestnut Hill Preserve TIS, DelDOT did indeed add six intersections to the TIS scope, to include the Route 4 intersections with Salem Church Road and Library Avenue. And a 9/9/2016 DelDOT letter (with copies to the LU Department) reminds the TIS author of that addition and acknowledges the author's and DelDOT's finding that both above-mentioned intersections would be well into the "E" LOS range, and that no remedial system improvements are contemplated. Yet DelDOT didn't object to the subject project proceeding. The obvious reason: the "D" LOS requirement is County law -- enacted by an elected legislative body. DelDOT's own requirement, perhaps less stringent, was given force by an appointed Secretary. Further, DelDOT has a lesser obligation to enforce County law than County staff has. So DelDOT has left enforcement of County law with the County's Land Use Department.

    Upon a TIS finding of excessive traffic impact, the applicant has the option under UDC Section 40.11.150 to propose either a new plan or restrictions for the prior plan that would limit the impact to acceptable levels. Thereby, the proposed 265 dwelling unit project would be reduced to provide no more than 50 additional peak hour trips to the transportation system, perhaps 41 dwelling units (DU's).

    Yet somehow, acting on the Land Use Department's recommendation, County Council approved recordation of the 265 DU subdivision plan. Responding to this author's prods starting 7/30/2017 on the basis for LU's recommendation, the Department requested a "legal review" regarding its execution of the UDC Article 11 requirements, and on 8/15/2017 advised that "the review concluded that the TIS is consistent with the requirements of the code." LU is concealing the rest of the results of the legal review. That's hard to explain unless the review advises the Department that it has no authority to disregard DelDOT's expansion of the TIS scope of the TIS because disregarding it amounts to a veto of law duly enacted over a decade ago by County Council. Not even the County Executive has such veto authority, and he's elected, not appointed.

    It's appropriate for the Department to acknowledge its error in recommending recordation and to proceed according to standing law. LU can truthfully say that nobody bats 1000, and recognize that the story will sound much better if the folks who made the error tell about it. LU should get out in front on this -- by NOT issuing any building permits, just as UDC Section 40.11.000 demands when a valid TIS says the impact is excessive. Otherwise heads will probably roll.

    Read a short biography of Vic Singer

    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

    "This ‘Ponzi scheme’ surrounding development leaves most cities and towns functionally insolvent", featured on MarketWatch HERE.

    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 legislators and developers have most folks believing the opposite is true.

    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.

    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 ...]