Corruption is a cancer: A cancer that eats away at a citizen's faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity" ~Joe Biden
For the record, Saving the Orphanage Property (STOP) was a three year grassroots campaign (2015-2018) to save the last significant open space in Ogletown, Delaware, for a regional park. A host of other reasons -- some critical -- also existed for why the land should have been preserved, and was not suitable for development. However, the effort was crushed and defeated by government corruption on the part of New Castle County (NCC) and State elected legislators with financial ties to development interests, and a newly elected pro-development County Executive.
If any of the 16 facts below -- in BOLD font -- are false or inaccurate, please comment with the evidence and/or proof otherwise, and we will eagerly retract and update this blog.
FACT: News of the Felician Sisters desire to develop the Orphanage Property was NOT brought to the public for over 2 years (documented) than it could have been. And discussion about the possibility of development was brought to Councilwoman Lisa Diller, Representative Ed Osienski, and Senator Bryan Townsend at the very beginning of that time. Additionally during the 2013-2015 time frame, Diller and NCC Council raised $150,000 to help the Felician Sisters get a plan approved, with virtually no public knowledge.
FACT: From the time that the July 2015 public meeting was held at Holy Family Church, Councilwoman Diller and Rep Osienski were heard on many occasions referring to the development or their help in saving the Orphanage Property as "Done", "Finished", and/or "It (the Chestnut Hill "Preserve) is going to happen, it’s going to happen", etc. Osienski in particular made it clear in writing that a STOP campaign started years earlier -- in 2013 before the exploratory plan was even drawn up -- would have made no difference in the outcome.
FACT: The Traffic Impact Study (TIS) was carefully scoped to exclude nearby signalized intersections that fail level of service (LOS). In contempt of the Unified Development Code (UDC), they used driveways, median cut-throughs and residential T streets along Route 4 to fulfill the "three intersections in each direction" mandate. This underhanded action insured that the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" would move forward with no chance of traffic concerns taken seriously.
FACT: (Provided via expert opinion from a now former NCC Council member and expert in the field, and in a meeting between Advocates and officials from the NCC Dept of Land Use): The Orphanage Property sits atop one of the highest water tables in the State, and would be very difficult to build on without exasperating flood-prone issues in adjacent communities and a FEMA "100 year" flood plain down on Leathermans Run/Christina River.
FACT: According to NCC’s GIS mapping tool, all 180 acres of the Orphanage Property was shown as “Low Density Suburban”, in terms of future land use. Somewhere along the way, without public notice, it was re-purposed as mainly High Density for the approximate 60 acres of open field space abutting Route 4. The rest (120 acres of non-buildable wetlands, woodlands, and vernal pools) became a “gift” from the developer, to be used to fulfill what is normally a very small percentage of open space mandated in the UDC. So, in essence, when considering what was actually “buildable”, and the fact that the Chestnut Hill “Preserve” does indeed clear and pave over a portion of the forest and wetlands, the result is a negative contribution to open space.
FACT: In a blatant conflict of interest, Exec Meyer appointed Joseph Setting (Orphanage Property developer at the time, according to the WNJ, and still vested via multiple LLCs) and Michael Hoffman (of Tarabicos-Grosso, firm representing the Felician Sisters) to Chairman and sub-Chair positions on the NCC Parks Transition Team. Their job was to help Meyer prioritize parkland needs for every region of NCC. This was a clear conflict of interest, and Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) Advocates filed a formal complaint with the NCC "Ethics" Commission (NCCEC). The NCCEC would not go beyond a "preliminary" investigation, basing their conclusion on hearsay and/or very minimal inputs. They ruled that it was not a conflict of interest and did NOT appear improper, when in fact, placing Ogletown-S. Newark (aka “Route 4 corridor”) at #3 priority guaranteed the Orphanage Property would be lost to development based purely on lack of funds. The Parks budget barely had enough to cover #1 and #2 – Red Lion and Middletown – whose land was either donated or already owned by NCC. Purchase of the Orphanage Property should have easily been #1, given the one chance-only opportunity it represented.
FACT: Senator Townsend and Rep Osienski would NOT intervene, assert themselves and/or participate in Orphanage Property buyout negotiations; instead, they trusted and allowed their NCC Democratic colleague -- newly elected County Executive Matt Meyer -- to handle all negotiations on behalf of saving the Orphanage Property. Despite pleas from Advocates to oversee Meyer's negotiations, and the chance of losing this one chance-only opportunity for a park, both would not get involved and they wouldn't even enlist the highest office for help - the Governor.
FACT: (According to Townsend through emails and phone calls): Exec Meyer FAILED to include several basic conditions in his written buyout offers that he had personally promised the Sisters in prior meetings (i.e. who's going to plow the snow at the entry road, etc). According to Meyer, there were four buyout offers -- but it was later found that only two were in any way usable. Because Diller had publicly stated in public and in an e-mail to her Constituents that she was “Done and Finished” and would not support the objections to the development -- and there was no State Legislator oversight in spite of them sharing constituents and being equally vested -- none of this was rectified.
FACT: (According to Townsend through emails and phone calls): Meyer refused to offer above appraised value for the Orphanage Property, despite approx $1M dollars already spent in developer planning, engineering and labor that would have to be absorbed. The Felician Sisters, in favor of the park themselves, offered to "meet halfway" on that, as long as Meyer produced a viable offer with basic conditions met. Meyer hesitated, sticking to his non-viable offer, then he waited a couple of months for the Sisters to "counter". Upon not hearing from NCC and Meyer, the Sisters had to commit one way or the other. With so much uncertainty surrounding Meyer and government funding in general, the last Orphanage Property deadline passed and the land was locked in for development. Again, because there was no State Legislator oversight -- in spite of them sharing constituents and being equally vested -- none of this was or could be rectified.
FACT: The Ogletown-S. Newark region does NOT have a regional park, and now thanks to Diller-Osienski-Townsend (and Meyer 11th hour) they never will. This is in contempt of the State's supposed Mission included in such programs as "Livable Delaware" (Minner), Trails & Pathways (Markell), along with endless studies and data that proves the value of such facilities to the health and well-being of the communities that surround them. The economic benefits of parks are also invaluable, and they more than pay for themselves. These three Legislators went the entire opposite direction, compromising an entire region's health, happiness, property values, and right of access to healthy exercise. Instead, they chose an increase in congestion and the stresses of over-development, and to require residents to drive 15-20 minutes to use another region's park.
FACT: All 3 of the region's Legislators and Exec Matt Meyer accept numerous and generous campaign contributions from developers, land use attorneys, and others in the construction and building industry. Although STOP did receive a Resolution from the Civic League of NCC (CLNCC) in support of saving the Orphanage Property, Advocates are unaware of any efforts on their part to call out the enormous level of corruption that took place throughout the STOP campaign, most notably the above-mentioned conflict of interest and the NCCEC's failure to cite it.
FACT: A highly esteemed past president of the CLNCC had repeated to Advocates on several occasions that it is 'normal' procedure for NCC Govt and the involved Councilperson to give the genuine appearance of helping citizens and Advocates in matters of land use and conservation. Then approval of the development project goes to a vote, at which point the entire Council -- minus the Councilperson whose district it is -- votes to approve it. This, in effect, helps said Councilperson salvage their job since they voted against approval, while the others voted to approve, making it "not their fault". Citizens watched this exact scenario unfold as Councilwoman Lisa Diller was the lone vote against the Chestnut Hill “Preserve”.
FACT: (Stated by CLNCC members on several occasions): The NCC Dept of Land Use and NCC take in enormous sums of money from development projects, but in the long term, tax revenue from each new home ends up being 10-20% less than the County pays for needed civil and other services. This initial cash infusion drives NCC Council and their Legislators to act in the interest of short term self-preservation, not their constituents interests and regardless of whether existing home inventory is high or if parkland is needed.
FACT: Councilwoman Lisa Diller voted YES with NCC Council to pay above appraised value for the land that the new Route 9 “Library and Innovation Center” now sits on. This facility – while welcome for a community well outside NCC Dist 5 -- ended up costing NCC nearly $30M after what was originally projected as a $20M expenditure. Diller, however, defended Meyer’s stance that NCC will not pay a dime over appraised value for the Orphanage Property, despite a relatively small amount being clearly justified and benefiting her own constituents.
FACT: In Senator Townsend's on-line timeline "Ogletown Park", and in person and in emails, he and Rep Osienski tell a very different story from Exec Meyer of what took place during negotiations with the Felician Sisters. According to "County Efforts" -- an article published on NCC's website -- it appears certain that Meyer and NCC gave it their all in the buyout attempt. Townsend and Osienski, on the other hand, describe how Meyer was anything but sincere and genuine in wanting a regional park. Both have provided many examples supporting their positions, with Meyer going so far as to say that Townsend had originally secured $6M toward the Orphanage Property in the State’s bond bill. So in a game of "Name that Liar", we have two attorney politicians representing the County and State, with two very conflicting stories.
FACT: For all intents and purposes, the July 2015 public meeting hastily arranged by Diller was already TOO LATE for constituent involvement in terms of best use for the Orphanage Property. It was also too late for Advocates to change the outcome to a park, given so much time and money already invested in planning the Chestnut Hill "Preserve". The Public and the Constituents, most importantly those in the communities adjacent to the project, were not notified, nor asked for their input.
Counciloman Diller, Representative Osienski, and Senator Townsend refuted these facts throughout their 2018 campaigns, through hearsay or by applying their own political spin and/or attorney-speak to these events. Never once were these facts formally contested during STOP’s three year campaign, yet in what appears overwhelming fashion, the people approved of their job performance by re-electing them in a landslide. It should be noted, however, that this landslide (an average 2-1 margin for all three) represented about 20% of their district's citizens; about half are registered voters, and of those, about 2/3 turn out and vote. Then you have their legislative districts that are gerrymandered to ensure out-of-region participation. It is not clear how someone living in chateau country northwest of Newark, or someone living on Orchard Avenue near the University of DE, for example, has the same needs and interests as those living in, say, Brookside or Todd II. But then, the "system" is designed to ensure victory for these politicians, even those who commit the worst crimes against their constituents, because what effects one region likely won't affect the other (re-election chances saved).
Absent were Delaware's key so-called "environmental conservation" and civic organizations, who either refused or could not be bothered with endorsing STOP after repeated appeals to do so. A few including Delaware Nature Society, White Clay Creek Watershed, and even the UAW's CAP Council jumped on board immediately with vocal and written support of three concise Orphanage Property preservation statements. Delaware Audubon, Sierra Club, and Wildlands either declined or ignored the campaign completely. STOP Advocates were also met with resistance from Newark area "environmental" advocacy leaders, who not only didn't support STOP, but were troubled that their email list was used to reach out for endorsements.
Among the few bright spots was the Civic League of New Castle County, that did endorse STOP. But actual support from that organization fell woefully short and/or turned negative as the campaign struggled late. Vic Singer, their most prominent and respected board member (and 13 years past Chair of the NCC Planning Board) maintained from the outset that Advocates were conducting an "emotional" campaign doomed to failure, instead of "simply" asserting the letter of the law as written in the UDC. According to Singer, the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" could be halted at the 51st NCC building permit. 51 housing units is all that the Unified Development Code allows dispensation for when level of service (LOS) is in failure mode -- as it most definitely is along Route 4 and at its intersections. The truth is, nothing was going to stand in the way of the full development; not Vic Singer; not DelDOT, and certainly not the State legislators, who could have easily secured the funds and stopped this travesty over the 6 years they knew about it. It was completely moot, and served only to create a false sense of hope; once all the key infrastructure elements (streets, curbing, sewer, drainage, etc) were in place, even if Singer was legally correct, a way to complete the entire development would still have to be found. In spite of this difficulty, there were a few on the CLNCC that did work with the STOP campaign when there was actually a chance (before construction began) to stop it, and their efforts were appreciated -- alongside several other citizens, organizations and Advocates that gave a hand.
Given everything written above, the overwhelming odds are that a carefully orchestrated plan was in place to ensure that the Orphanage Property was developed. The Legislators mentioned above, acting on behalf of their campaign donors and/or other monetary interests, acted together to keep themselves safe from any form of judicial or disciplinary authority. NCC Exec Matt Meyer was granted exclusive control to "negotiate" on behalf of a County-State buyout, and would take the fall since he didn't need the Ogletown-S. Newark region for positive NCC-wide approval ratings. On the citizen end of things, a few folks residing in the adjacent communities of Todd Estates II and Breezewood were outstanding. But support from fellow Advocates, from so-called "environmentalists", and from local civic groups wasn't even lukewarm. That apathy, combined with rampant government corruption is what cost us this land, and given that, the Ogletown-S. Newark region will forever be at a loss -- a HUGE loss.
People's indifference is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow"
~ Delia Ferreira Rubio
“The politicians are put there to give you the idea you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land, they own and control the corporations that've long since bought and paid for, the senate, the congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pocket, and they own all the big media companies so they control just about all of the news and the information you get to hear. They got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else. But I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them.” ~ George Carlin
* * * DELAWARE GOVERNMENT, AT ALL LEVELS, IS CORRUPT. MOST OF THE ELECTED, AND MANY IN ITS REGULATORY AND SO-CALLED "OVERSIGHT" AGENCIES ARE CON-ARTISTS AND LIARS, AND ARE SKILLED IN THE ART OF DECEIT FOR THEIR OWN PERSONAL GAIN. THOSE WHO BELIEVE THEM ENABLE THEM, AND ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM * * *