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More Thoughts for NCC Comprehensive Plan Revisions by Bob Weiner  

(County Executive signs controversial land use law removing 3.319 procedure)

November 4, 2005

Through the educational opportunities afforded to me by the National Association of Counties, Urban Land Institute and American Planning Association, I have had the benefit of learning of best practices community models across the country. Many citizens are not familiar with the successful traditional neighborhood design village model. One's comprehension is sometimes limited by one's experiences.

For example, many may never have seen a 60,000 square foot grocery store, medical facility or other super-sized store that is situated in a village square but is disguised by small "liner stores" which surround the large buildings and totally hide the loading dock.

Many may never have seen a modern village that looks and feels like a pre-suburban sprawl (pre-WW II) village and yet functions with modern-day stores in the center square.

Many may never have seen a modern village with a sacred protected village edge which prevents external growth outside the village limits in perpetuity. This is a strategy that many European villages employ. Also, many American communities are employing these strategies. We can also. This is a different growth culture than most Americans have. Many still think in terms of a "wild west mentality". They still think that we live in the wild west with unlimited open space to ravage. Others yet think that we can simply say "no" to future development and it will go some place else and be someone else's problem. That latter thinking has gotten us in the "mess" that we currently are experiencing. Our workforce is being forced to live outside New Castle County because our growth management strategies result in only $300,000 to $400,000 new housing to be built in unincorporated southern New Castle County (for the most part). Employment centers in northern New Castle County can only be accessed by long commutes which exacerbates traffic congestion and further worsens our air quality. The extra driving time detracts from our quality of life and lessons the time that we could chose to allocate for walking and other forms of exercise. Obesity is an epidemic which is directly related to our sedentary lifestyles.

Growth is inevitable. As long as the right of procreation is constitutionally protected, (tongue in cheek) we will have growth and must plan for it. In New Castle County, we can continue to accommodate growth in suburban sprawl patterns which disincentivize other options. Or, we can take the time to learn about successful growth management strategies that are completely foreign to us; and yet, in many ways, very familiar to us at the same time.

For example, in New Castle County, if we adopt growth policies that encourages growth in villages which are sited along the (future) light railroad station stops and current Route 1 exits, we would preserve an incredible amount of open space while at the same time facilitating service by multiple forms of mass transit. These villages can be connected by both roads and bike/ped paths so that residents have options. There are actually places like this that I have seen in this country and in Europe. We could significantly shrink the growth zone and also substantially reduce the cost of implementing infrastructure. If New Castle County adopts a growth management strategy in southern New Castle County which discourages sprawl and fosters transit oriented development patterns, then we, as a county, will be creating the necessary groundwork to encourage the State of Delaware to adopt a policy in conformity to fund light rail service from Wilmington to Dover and points south.

If we continue to build segregated housing projects that compel us to drive long distances to segregated shopping and work locations, then we will continue to exacerbate traffic congestion. But, if we plan villages that integrate live work spaces together harmoniously then some (not all) will have the option of living where they work. Traditional zoning laws segregate residential from office and commercial. Form-based zoning aesthetically, attractively and seamlessly integrates where we live, shop, work, play, pray and school our children.

Today's growth is spread out over large areas. It doesn't have to be that way. Density can be attractive. Cape May, Annapolis, New Hope and Manayunk attract us because it is mixed use, aesthetically designed and pedestrian friendly. (Building such a village today in New Castle County is currently illegal.) Density facilitates all of this. Community generated Design guidelines coupled with density can also facilitate work-force housing because density provides the economic incentives to build seamless and attractive integrated work-force housing that is affordable is totally indistinguishable from its neighbors. I have seen this. It doesn't exist here now but it could.

Suburban sprawl subdivisions isolate neighbor from neighbor. The design does not foster democratic participation. Villages bring neighbors together and foster participatory democracy. New England town meetings and Arden town meetings have a common thread. Participatory democracy thrives because of the community design. When you walk on a village street where the homes are closer together and closer to the front street with sidewalks that people actually use, residents interact with other more. They don't hide out on their back decks. They sit on their front porches and speak with their neighbors as they walk by. Part of the appeal of Cape May is its walkability and the front porches where neighbors can sit and chat with each other and chat with folks who walk by. There is a significant national population shift trend away from the one hour commute from a suburban "McMansion" to a city/town/village lifestyle. In New Castle County, we do not foster that trend; but we could!

Not everyone will chose to live in a village, hamlet, town or city. Some will chose to live in suburban sprawl. But we have failed to give citizens a real choice. In New Castle County currently there is really no choice for attractive new affordable work force housing. The 3.319 procedure was successful in only one regard: it virtually stopped cluster development with town house components dead in its tracks. No project was ever disapproved at a 3.319 hearing. But what the 3.319 hearing did was redirect virtually every developer away from building environmentally sensitive clustered development with mixed use housing for fear of rejection at a 3.319 hearing. The 3.319 hearing only applied to cluster development. The replacement public hearing applies to EVERY plan and has been moved to the front of the decision-making process, when it can make a real difference in the plan. There still remains the County Council hearing to review and approve every subdivision at the end of the process. Now the process has created a level playing field. The level playing field is exactly what the economic elitists and no-growth proponents did not want. The blindly uninformed supporters of 3.319 just listened to the economic elitists and no-growth proponents without taking the time to figure it out on their own. Thankfully, the institutional impediment of the 3.319 procedure has been removed by a courageous majority of 7 County Council members who rejected the misjudgment of a few vocal misguided and /or clueless citizens. But removing 3.319 was only the first step. Removing 3.319 will now allow us to begin to create attractive communities with affordable work force housing. Now we need to amend the UDC to facilitate real density coupled with community-endorsed design guidelines. This WILL NOT have any impact on existing suburban sprawl areas.

We have created suburban sprawl patterns in certain areas and using a car is an absolute necessity. We can chose to create pedestrian friendly villages as we expand to address anticipated growth. However, we can also retrofit existing suburban sprawl areas like Brandywine Hundred so that we are not ALWAYS hostages to our single occupancy vehicles. We are in fact creating greenways, bikeways, context sensitive design pathways facilitates options that currently are not available to many of us in Brandywine Hundred. I have championed greenways, bikeways, context sensitive design pathways connecting the Brandywine River to the Delaware River. This greenway, once completed, with other interconnecting pathways will provide the option of those who chose to do so to safely ride their bikes to Astra Zeneca and DuPont Company work sites. I am also working with DELDOT to create pathways along Grubb Road and Shipley Road, which are currently not safe for pedestrians. Once we complete the Shipley Road pathway, residents will have the option of safely biking to work in Wilmington, via Washington Street Extension and via the Blue Ball Greenway.

Old solutions do not always address current challenges. Many urged me to disapprove of the rezoning necessary to bring Astra Zeneca to Brandywine Hundred. Instead, I worked with others to fashion a new solution. Now, 40% of Astra Zeneca's workforce do not utilize single occupancy vehicles during peak rush hours because of my cutting edge legislation. This record of success shows that we CAN do better. The "Level of Service Mitigation and Monitoring Agreement" that I wrote and sponsored incentivizes a modal shift of employees out of single occupancy vehicles traveling during peak rush hour by employing an array of mitigation strategies: ride sharing, telecommuting, staggered work hours, ride sharing fairs and bike/ped alternatives. On-site facilities such as day care, exercise facilities, postal services, food services and other needed amenities provide employees with options which help us to achieve traffic congestion management goals. Astra Zeneca's successful employment of this strategy has enabled it to earn a reputation as one of the best employers in the country. Despite the addition of 5000 new employees into our local workforce, there has been no degradation of roadway level of service along the Concord Pike corridor. Old models do not always address today's challenges. Using the old model, we would have simply told Astra Zeneca to go away because our roadway system was already at peak capacity. Some turning movements were already in failure.

We can't eliminate the use of single occupancy vehicles but we also don't need to be hostages to them. By creating villages where residents have the option of live, shop, work, play, pray and school their children, we can begin to address the growth management structural deficiencies that we have created since World War II. (We also must keep emphasizing that its all about having choices. The choice to live in a new traditional neighborhood design community was made illegal in the early 1970's because of two institutional impediments: the archaic State Fire Commission's regulations and the County Land Use Codes. Both of these assumed that only suburban sprawl would ever be built in the future. See Torti Gallas Essay appended below.)

SmartCode: the Benefits of Compact Form

Provides a smaller ecological footprint in order to accommodate everyday human needs.

Allows emphasis on location efficiency: pedestrian accommodation, convenient access to everyday uses, and reduced VMT per capita.

Allows for a sustainable grid-network of streets to improve internal circulation and traffic capture while dissuading external through-traffic (sustainable infrastructure).

Provides for neighborhood centers that can support transit, should it become available.

Reduces development demand elsewhere, and provides opportunities for rural preservation or reservation through TDRs.

Provides a context for a walkable neighborhood school districts, reducing the need for bussing.

Provides for neighborhood housing choice (and cradle to grave residency)

I continue to champion new pedestrian links. We are building a network throughout Brandywine Hundred, New Castle County and the country. The East Coast Greenway is an "urban Appalachian trail", running from Maine to Florida and is 80% complete. It is master planned to run along Philadelphia Pike with a spur along the Delaware River. This will interface with our local greenways, pathways, sidewalks and walkways.

I have appended an article about County Executive Chris Coons' rationale for signing the legislation removing the 3.319 procedure from the UDC and some articles from for your reference. At the very bottom of this email chain, I have reprinted my two earlier essays with links to learned articles. There are some citizens who are willing to learn and others who feel that they are know everything they need to know since they learned it already. The solutions that made sense in the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's are no longer relevant. Those who are not willing to learn are destined to repeat the same mistakes in the future unless the elected public servants become informed and chose to champion sound land use growth management policies. Those citizens who are observant and thoughtful will take some time to study these alternative growth patterns.

Best wishes. Bob Weiner


News Journal 11/04/2005

Coons signs controversial land-use law

New Castle County Executive Chris Coons has signed a controversial land-use law despite requests from three civic organizations for a veto. The revised ordinance, which County Council approved 7 to 6 last week, eliminates a special hearing for cluster developments. These are high-density subdivisions with a mix of housing and open space. The new law instead creates a public hearing for all major developments at the earliest stage. Members of the Southern New Castle County Civic Alliance, Milltown-Limestone Civic Alliance and the Civic League of New Castle County asked for a veto because they believe the law strips power from the public and council. The special hearing is an opportunity for council to hear public comments and turn down a plan if it doesn't fit with surrounding land. No other type of development has such a provision. Coons said the change "will allow consistency in the process and take into account the public's interest in having their views heard at an earlier stage, thus ultimately having greater impact on the plans."

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