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4/29/2008
‘Shops at Brandywine Valley’-- a proposal with flaws

By Councilman Bob Weiner
R-Chatham


Community News Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2008
 
The New Castle County Department of Land Use has received an Exploratory Land Development Plan from the Stoltz Organization for the 44-acre parcel of open land at the corner of Concord Pike and Beaver Valley Road, which is owned by the Woodlawn Trustees.

Specifically, the application is ultimately seeking New Castle County Council approval for a rezoning of the land from high density residential to commercial. This is ultimately a discretionary or political decision which will be determined by a majority vote by the 13 members of New Castle County Council after considering the recommendation of the County Land Use Department & Planning Board and public testimony.  

The subdivision plan for the parcel located on the southeast corner of Route 202 and Route 92 is titled “The Shops at Brandywine Valley”.  The purpose of this plan is to seek approval for a 364,000 square foot shopping center, which would be roughly half the size of Concord Mall.

The latest proposal seeks to rezone 42 of the 44 acres from high density residential to commercial use to accommodate a 237,000-square-foot commercial shopping center and 27,000 square feet of office, plus 36 living units on roughly 100,000 square feet. (Two acres are already zoned commercial.) The New Castle County Comprehensive Plan designates the parcel for high-density residential development. This Comprehensive Plan designation does not mean that the parcel ought to be rezoned for commercial.

Stoltz last year proposed a 199,950-square-foot shopping center for the southwest corner of Beaver Valley Road and Concord Pike. The Stoltz proposal was rejected by New Castle County Land Use Department, which described the concept as “unacceptable” in part because the auto-dominated commercial layout did not create a pedestrian friendly environment and instead would be dominated by greater automobile use. In response to the County Land Use Department’s negative recommendation, Stoltz has now proposed an even larger shopping center totaling 237,000 square feet of commercial space, plus 27,000 square feet of office and 36 “living units.” Stoltz’s press release claims that the addition of 36 “living units” and the creation of a new ring road transform the shopping center; both removing traffic congestion from Concord Pike while giving the larger commercial center a “neighborhood feel.”  However, let me observe that the addition of 36 “living units” and 27,000 square feet of office to a proposed 237,000 square foot shopping center does not suddenly transform the auto dominated commercial shopping center to a pedestrian-friendly mixed use village where resident pedestrians are the primary customers of the village shops and offices. The proposed auto dominated Pre-Exploratory Sketch Plan slices up the parcel with crossing roadways, seas of asphalt, scattered multiple restaurant pads, a bank pad and a strip shopping center.

Residential use would counter-balance the existing ample supply of commercial opportunities in the Concord Pike corridor and help achieve a desirable mix of uses in the Concord Pike corridor. Residents would be able to walk or take a bus to shops, restaurants and offices. Residents could enjoy a healthy life style by taking advantage of the many walking paths on the adjacent Woodlawn Trustees parklands along the banks of the Brandywine River. In contrast, additional new commercial space would simply cannibalize the existing commercial tenants along Concord Pike, where there is already a high rate of commercial vacancies. The Stoltz Organization would reap additional cash flow while the community would be punished with blighted vacant storefronts and even worse gridlock on an already congested Concord Pike corridor.

There is a scheduled Exploratory Planning Board Public Hearing that will be held on Tuesday May 6, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. in the Multi-Purpose Room of the Gilliam Building, 77 Reads Way, New Castle Corporate Commons, New Castle, DE.   The Stoltz organization will make a presentation to the New Castle County Planning Board and New Castle County Land Use Department. The Land Use Department may opt to issue a comment letter to the applicant prior to this first public hearing. The public will have an opportunity to present its point of view at this hearing after the applicant makes its presentation. Shortly afterwards, the County Land Use Department will issue an Exploratory Plan comment letter. The plan then proceeds from the Exploratory Plan phase to the Preliminary Plan phase. The applicant then appears before the County Planning Board and County Land Use Department for a second public hearing on the Preliminary Plan. At the conclusion of this second public hearing, there is an official recommendation which is transmitted to New Castle County Council. County Council then holds a public hearing on the Preliminary Plan and makes a final decision on whether or not the rezoning is proper. It is important to note the Land Use Department’s recommendation is critically important. If the Land Use Department professionals recommend against the rezoning application then the 13 members of County Council must approve the rezoning by a supermajority vote of 9 out of 13 members. Should County Council vote to approve the Preliminary Plan, the Plan becomes a “by right” Record Plan.  The Record Plan is forwarded by Land Use to County Council once more for Record Plan approval. County Council must by law approve the Record Plan if the plan complies with all of the technical requirements of the County Subdivision Code. At this final stage, County Council only has the authority to transmit the plan back to Land Use twice with questions regarding the plan’s technical compliance with the County’s Unified Development Code. There is no other legally allowable objection at this juncture. Therefore, it is important to note that the important vote is County Council vote of approval or disapproval of the Preliminary Plan.

It is important that the public let its voice be heard! You are urged to attend the May 6 public hearing at 7 p.m. Attending the public hearing will enable you to consider the information presented by the applicant at the upcoming hearing before forming any final opinion on this revised application. You may choose to speak or just listen to all the testimony.  

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