Sunday, May 28, 2017

STOP coverage in Ogletown Resilience

As most of you know, Save the Orphanage Property (STOP) is getting regular coverage on 1st State Bikes. Regional parks are crucial for our quality of life, which includes walking, running, relaxing, taking in nature, etc. For bicycling, they make wonderful destinations. It is also the primary news topic of Ogletown Resilience. Once there is an outcome, we will begin to diversify in the areas of active transportation, environmental stewardship, and sustainable living -- our current mission statement. Also, visit STOP on Facebook and like them to receive all the latest updates.

STOP will remain the primary topic for the duration of the campaign, since we have many first time visitors as a result of our yard signs. If you are one of these folks, please scroll down through our postings and bring yourself up to date. If you are checking in to acquire a yard sign, please email: and provide your home address, and we will deliver. The area surrounding the Orphanage Property is the priority, which includes Todd Estates, Breezewood, Scottfield, and Brookside. Our first 100 are going fast, so email us today!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Flashback 2004: Glenville condemned. Who's next?

Photo from Wikipedia
In January 2004, Delaforum posted what is still the most detailed account of Glenville, a Stanton development that had to be abandoned. In short, Glenville began experiencing flood problems with the onset of numerous other developments springing up in the Christina-Red Clay Watershed. A few major storms (tropical, hurricane) pushed it over the edge, forcing NCC and the State into a buyout plan. Excerpts from the page:

State government is expected to also put up $15 million, but that cannot actually happen until the General Assembly enacts the annual capital-spending budget in late June. Delaware's congressional delegation reportedly is working to obtain federal money to reimburse state and county governments, but nothing is expected to move forward in that regard until late spring or early summer.

Meanwhile, County Executive Tom Gordon said, residents still living in Glenville and those in other low-lying communities along the Red Clay Creek remain in danger of being hit by another flood-causing storm.

Although there could be some question whether state or federal money will materialize, Council president Christopher Coons said he and his colleagues "have a degree of confidence ... that the governor and [county] executive will keep their word" and make the unprecedented buy-out at least a state-county project, if not a federal-state-county one.

What sets the Glenville situation apart from others, Brainard said, is that it involves obvious public health and safety issues. Apart from that, the state has a separate interest in acquiring property in that area. The community lies just north of the confluence of Red Clay and White Clay Creeks and Bread and Cheese Island. That is near where Delaware Department of Transportation will be required to replace wetland that will be lost by the planned widening of the Delaware Turnpike. [More . . .]

According to officials at the NCC Dept of Land Use (DLU), the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" will see much, if not most of its runoff channeled to Leathermans Run, a tributary of the Christina River. The final stretch of Leathermans is on the State's FEMA map as a type "A" flood hazard. What this means for adjacent residents (i.e. Woodshade to the SE) isn't clear, but it can't be positive. Will the green hash marks of the flood plain need to be redrawn, possibly overlapping property lines? Even without the Orphanage Property open space (and part of the forest and wetlands) paved over, Todd Estates and Breezewood residents are used to seeing the grasslands and woods fill with standing water. It is a very low land and has a high water table. This and more will now be heading to the Christina via Leathermans Run or will simply "absorb into the ground", according to officials and the report.

According to DLU officials, flood water on the Orphanage Property will be alleviated using
Leathermans Run and the Christina River.

The purple line represents the Salem Village Tax Ditch. The village is routinely threatened by
runoff, and the ditch helps protect communities like Chelmsford by channeling large
amounts of stormwater to Leathermans Run. Some units and their outbuildings are seen
sinking into the ground, which is unstable to begin with. It can be argued that this
development, and others nearby should never have been built in the first place.

Martha Denison explains the critical purpose of the Tax Ditch, that is used to protect low
lying neighborhoods from flooding. This stretch, in Chelmsford, is part of one that circles
Salem Village, as seen in the above map. Also pictured is Angela Connolly.

Visit Save the Orphanage Property (STOP) on Facebook, like us, and spread the word!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

NCC Executive Matt Meyer tours the Orphanage Property

On Friday May 19th, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and other New Castle County officials met with advocates and community leaders for a walking tour of the Orphanage Property. The tour showcased the extraordinary beauty of the land, including its open fields, woods, wetlands & vernal pools, and its amazing trail system. As we have written about extensively, an organization called "Save the Orphanage Property" (STOP) is advocating for approx. 160 acres to be saved as a regional park for Ogletown-South Newark. Some acreage would remain with the Felician Sisters, to fulfill their mission to build 60 affordable housing units, and STOP fully supports that aspect of the development.

Unfortunately, there is nothing encouraging beyond what we already know. Although Executive Meyer seemed to enjoy the walk and was willing to hear our concerns, he remains steadfast that no NCC funds -- not even the few million already set aside for parks -- will be spent on saving the Orphanage Property. This, however, could change if NCC Council votes to relax rules that require NCC-hired contractors to use apprentices. He forecasts that this would save the County 2-5M dollars per year, which would help cover the 3M needed as a first year installment (as part of a 6M multi-year buyout plan). But that might not happen in time to stop the Chestnut Hill "Preserve".

In addition to now available County funds, approx. 1M in donor funds have also been identified. The approx. 1M per year payments over the next few years could be earmarked in the Bond Bill. In a recent e-mail, Senator Bryan Townsend wrote that he and Rep. Osienski continue to engage in efforts to identify funds at the State level to acquire the property. But, as he wrote, and has told us many times, "the main driver of the solution must be at the County level". Unfortunately, Councilwoman Lisa Diller has not been very enthusiastic about saving this land from development, and has not been willing to communicate with, or work with STOP or other advocates to make a regional park a reality. And it is critical that, as Councilwoman of the district, she represents her constituents who have strong objections to this development.

It is also important to know that in communications with STOP leaders, Mark Schafale, the Chief Financial Officer for the Felician Sisters, as well as Sister Mary Christopher Moore, have both stated that they are very willing to hear what the County can offer as a deal. It is still possible to find a way to make a regional park a reality, and to stop the infrastructural and environmental devastation that the project will cause if it goes forward as currently planned. However, unless both County Executive Meyer and Councilwoman Diller are willing to take the necessary and aggressive actions, the opportunity to save this last remaining open space in Ogletown will be lost forever.

-- Angela Connolly contributed to this article

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Open Space Preservation as a Democratic Platform Plank?

In the Autumn of 2016, STOP advocates worked hard on a campaign to have the Delaware Democratic Party include open space preservation as a plank in their 2017 platform. This was not an endorsement of a particular party; the Democrats just happen to be our State's controlling party at this time. Unfortunately, despite repeated asks, it has either not come up for vote or has been tabled.

Open Space and Farmland Preservation is supported by the overwhelming majority of the electorate, regardless of party affiliation. Countless studies have shown the importance of parkland, natural habitat, and bio-diversity in a community's overall health and well being. Ordinary folks know this. Yet the party that sells itself as stewards of the environment is nowhere to be found, as evidenced by their silence on STOP.

Below is the breakdown of those who signed on in support of the plank. Conspicuously absent is newly elected Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, whom advocates reached out to  on multiple occasions without success. Obviously, we cannot, and will not tell our followers who to vote for. But we hope that open space preservation is at least one of the deciding factors when they enter the voting booth!

Introducing the official STOP yard sign

The above is but one concept being planned for a STOP
campaign yard sign. Make plans to join in the effort today!
Advocates at Save the Orphanage Property are moving ahead with "STOP" signs. Bumper stickers may follow. Countless residents are eagerly waiting for something that they can place in their yard or at curbside, to bring the campaign that much closer to the region. With deafening silence from our Legislators and Councilwoman Diller concerning the property's fate, the organization has no choice but to raise the stakes. Despite Executive Meyer's unswerving "commitment" (made at the last NCC Civic League Meeting) to making the park a reality, planning for the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" is all but wrapped up according to the project's page on the NCC Dept of Land Use (DLU) website.

Nobody understands the political implications of the effort more than STOP advocates, yet the distrust on the part of our leaders -- usually on display at meetings and with poor decorum in general -- persists. If we were approached in confidence that indeed, a parkland deal was coming together, and that its success hinged upon a pullback of STOP campaign activities, we would go eerily silent until the wonderful news broke. Instead, for reasons we have yet to grasp, advocates are viewed as carrying bullhorns, ready to mouth off at every subtle detail.

Stay tuned in the coming few weeks for more about STOP's new campaign signs, including pickup or delivery information. Followers will also be given the opportunity to donate the wholesale cost of the sign, which is expected to fall well under $5/piece. Said donation will not be mandatory, of course, as the goal is to distribute the signs far and wide.

A yard sign for open space funding via referendum. Unlike other States,
DE does not permit referendums at the voting booth. Such a lesser form
of democracy leaves citizens with little choice but to advocate for existing
government funds, or to hope for benefactor(s).

Friday, May 5, 2017

Chestnut Hill "Preserve" TIS scope exposes flaws, favoritism

The TIS (Traffic Impact Study) for the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" development of the Orphanage Property was completed in Sept 2016, according to the project website. Several items stand out, including DelDOT's recommendation not to "upgrade" already failed intersections at Route 4/South Chapel and Route 4/Salem Church. Just further east is Route 4 through the Harmony and Samoset intersections, the latter of which scores an "F" in LOS (level of service) and becomes a virtual parking lot during peak hours. It's a foregone conclusion that, where commuting and shopping goes, most new car trips from the Chestnut Hill "preserve" -- hundreds of them at any given time -- will be in the eastbound direction. This will further exasperate an already oppressive corridor through Ogletown.

The Avon Redevelopment Project was all but halted by a failed TIS. Avon is a project that most everyone can get behind. It's an old industrial site, and a project here would not only clean up a Brownfields, but could bring jobs and a bit of place-making to the area. However, a failed intersection -- Route 273 at Red Mill Road -- will require the developer to spend $1M+ to add additional lane capacity. "Improvements" must keep it at a congestion level "D" or better, accounting for its generated traffic.

The study area around the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" was carefully chosen to avoid failed

Take a moment to examine our TIS map above, that plots failed intersections vs what was actually studied. Note the Avon project, marked with a lavender circle. Now compare that, relative to the Orphanage Property (marked with a green stop sign). You can clearly see that the intersections -- residential side streets and median turns -- were carefully chosen to keep the study area away from nearby failed signalized intersections. These failed intersections are roughly the same distance away that Red Mill Rd is from the Avon site. In fact, three "F" grades literally wall us in to the east. Marrows to the west scores a "D", and could be pushed to an "E" with the added car trips. Route 72 is already an "E" and might go to an "F".

Is the Unified Development Code (UDC) being justly applied? Our Legislators and Council should be actively investigating. It appears that the rules for conducting key project studies may be ripe for manipulation. For example, DelDOT and NCC each have their own standards on TIS scope and coverage; maybe we're seeing some mixing and matching to achieve the desired result? According to Vic Singer, past Chair of the New Castle County Planning Board, a TIS is supposed to include 3 or more signalized intersections away from any proposed development project.

In summary, developers not only get to choose who performs their TIS, they are also allowed to use nearby residential streets, median turn lanes, and U-Turns to keep it all within a very small radius. This helps ensure that the actual problem intersections -- those that are signalized and failing level of service (LOS) -- fall outside the study area. Advocates must reclaim a UDC that is under heavy threat by developer interests, and is slowly being eroded. NCC must keep it to where ordinary citizens have the right to defend their quality of life, personal safety, and the environment from big moneyed interests.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

An Open Letter to Executive Matt Meyer: STOP

Dear Executive Meyer,
We are writing to PROTEST the development of the Orphanage property on Rt 4. As Breezewood homeowners, this will dramatically affect our quality of life. With more homes on Rt 4, an already congested roadway will be pushed to the limits. It already takes about 15-20 minutes to progress 2-3 miles to the I-95 ramp. After a long day at work, many residents already sit in traffic for up to an hour.

The Christina School district is stretched to the limits with already unacceptable teacher-student ratios, despite the passing of the School Referendum. We already pay too much in school taxes, I really doubt any further referendums will be passed. How is the district supposed to accommodate the influx of new students from this new development?

We currently have issues with drainage during and following heavy rainfall, the removal of trees and grass will allow more free flowing rainfall to run downhill into the Breezewood yards. I understand that this area is considered a 100 year flood plain. Many residents are concerned that this will eventually lead to a repeat of the Glenville fiasco, and of course should this happen, the New Castle County taxpayers will be footing the bill again, as usual.

We also have concern about the affect on our property values. In reviewing the impact that this potential housing development brings, we find only negatives and no positive benefits to our community.

Since the housing market bubble imploded and the "sub-prime" mortgage disaster, there are many foreclosures and short sales. If you go to any of the realty websites such as Trulia, Zillow, you will find an extraordinary amount of foreclosures, pending foreclosures and bank auctions in NewCastle County. Many houses are languishing on the market, sitting unsold for 3-6 months. Many of the houses for sale, which are not foreclosures, are sitting empty. Why are you allowing new development when existing homes are sitting empty and not selling. This is just not acceptable.

We propose the land be purchased by the County to become a Park that will service areas that do not have one. When my children were little the only close place to take them was at Brookside School on Marrows Rd and only after school hours. This is still a problem, why is our area of so little importance that we do not deserve a decent park land.

The Glasgow/896 Park is a shining example of potential land for development that was instead bought for use by the residents. Why do the residents of the Rt 4 corridor have to accept any less than the residents of Glasgow. That park was the "crown jewel" of County Executive Tom Gordon's achievements while in office. The Ogletown Park can be a lasting memorial to your time in office. It can be either the Ogletown Park as a legacy of your service, or very angry constituents who decide to vote you out of office after only one term. There are very few issues that stir people up as much as their home and their family.

Please send a message to your potential voters that you listen to the people who voted you in office and not to the developers who just want to make "a buck" on this parcel of land and leave the area residents with these unpleasant issues resulting from the new housing development.

Please do the right thing, the voters are watching....

Mr and Mrs. Robert Novotny

Monday, May 1, 2017

STOP Final Survey Results

Early in the STOP campaign, an on-line survey was launched. The goal was to better understand the vision Ogletown residents have for the Orphanage Property should it be preserved. The results quickly rolled in, putting it past SurveyMonkey's complimentary user limit. Rather than pay the service charge and promote the survey beyond that, we decided to let it expire and use the data gathered from the first 100 results. We sincerely thank everyone who participated. Doing so showed faith in democratic ideals and principles; that the will of citizens -- not profiteering -- must be honored first and foremost by our govt leaders. We remain confident that they will come through for us in this manner, thereby saving the Orphanage Property as a regional park for all to enjoy.