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

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