Wednesday, April 26, 2017

STOP and Zoning in Laymans Terms

Proposed site of the Chestnut Hill "Preserve"
A lot of our supporters have been messaging and commenting as to how Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) compares to others around NCC, including several golf courses. Many, if not most of these other battles involve a proposed rezoning on the part of the developer. What was originally zoned as, i.e. "low density suburban" (1-3 homes per acre) is being eyed for, say, 5-6 to increase profits. High density can be much more than that (townhomes, apartments, etc).

What it boils down to is this; the "Chestnut Hill (so-called) Preserve" -CHP- is what's known as a "by-right" plan, that does not require a rezoning. Even though it contains high density, the developers agreed to save about 70% of Orphanage Property as dedicated open space, allowing them to consolidate on the portion (the only buildable portion) that we are attempting to save for a regional park. It's referred to as an "Open Space Plan", but in our case, it's deceptive because that 70% is inland wetlands and critical habitat area, and is not buildable property in any case. And to top it off, the CHP plan calls for shutting down all trails and public access to that remaining 70%, which is very popular now with area residents as a sort of defacto park.

A by-right plan is a virtual given, and is very difficult to stop unless the landowner is willing to sell. And that is exactly the situation STOP has and why we have to act. A rezoning, on the other hand, requires legal approval. Resident's groups usually sue to try and stop it, hoping to enforce the original zoning. Nothing says a property MUST be rezoned, but as we have shown, development interests have spent many years lobbying and chipping away at our land use codes. NCC's Unified Development Code (UDC) has been steadily weakened over the years, in favor of developers over us citizens. One look at our Transportation Impact Study (TIS) for the CHP clearly makes that case. Will Executive Meyer allow this trend to continue? Time will tell.

Battles brewing over golf courses and other last remaining open spaces in NCC should be of no consequence to STOP. Most are fairly recent, and if residents do take up the fight, challenging a rezoning could be tied up in litigation and TISs for several years to come. It's all they have unless a dedicated source of open space funding comes on line and the property comes available for purchase. STOP is today, it's act now or we lose it forever.

An article recently appeared in the Wilmington News Journal, which explains it rather well with the Brandywine Country Club as an example. Excerpts:

Now, Capano wants to use the grounds to build 408 apartment units in 12 three- to four-story buildings and 155 new homes ranging from small townhouses to larger single-family lots. The land's current zoning will allow less than half of that, so Capano plans to ask New Castle County Council to approve a rezoning in the coming year.

Neighbors accustomed to a relatively quiet place say they will fight to stop that rezoning in an effort to protect their piece of Brandywine Hundred, Delaware's oldest and most densely populated suburb.

They fear two-lane roads will be overloaded with traffic. They abhor the thought of losing open space that for 70 years was a golf course. And they worry the apartments will change the neighborhood's character with renters, who have less invested in their community. [Full article ...]

So we hope that our readers have a better understanding of what's at stake. Land use advocacy is very complicated and difficult to sort for the average layman. Developers count on this when the public rightfully cries foul over the decimation of our natural landscape and the increased noise and congestion it creates. Advocates must take back the UDC, and put NCC back on the path of responsible and sustainable development, one that gives citizens the voice in preserving and/or improving the quality of life -- developers and for-profit business interests come second.

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