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3/11/2009
Stoltz excessive scope and scale cause community outrage - Community News

Stoltz projects could be boon for NCCo

By Jesse Chadderdon
Community News
Posted Mar 11, 2009 @ 12:30 PM
Last update Mar 12, 2009 @ 08:59 AM

Greenville, Del. —
One year ago, when Stoltz Real Estate Partners rolled out plans for five projects in northern New Castle County, alarm bells instantly sounded among neighbors, preservationists and government officials alike.

But for others, who have watched with keen interest development nearly grind to a halt during this recession, that ringing might have sounded more like the cha-ching of cash registers.

There's little doubt that the plans - totaling more than 4 million square feet - will impact nearby neighbors in Greenville, Brandywine Hundred and Bear. But whether entire communities will crumble as property values plummet - as some have claimed - remains to be seen.

There's also little question that large projects like the ones Stoltz is proposing will be a boon for New Castle County from a financial perspective, especially since all but one are redevelopment projects that won't need expensive new infrastructure.

Stoltz estimates that the projects, as currently conceived, represent a $750 million investment in construction spending alone, creating 1,200 jobs that will pay $100 million in wages. Once completed, the sites will be home to 8,000 permanent jobs and the source of $14 million in county property tax revenue each year, according to Brad Coburn, the company's chief operating officer.

"The potential of new jobs and increased tax revenue is always important in any community," he said. "We think it’s even more important given the current economy."

Beverly Baxter, executive director of the economic development advocacy group the Committee of 100, said it is vital for plans to be going through the county's lengthy land use approval process now, so when the economy begins to recover, shovels are ready to go in the ground. And despite all the horror stories, Wilmington banks are still willing to finance high-quality projects, she said.

Coburn said it could be three years before any of the projects are complete. That means, quite simply, Stoltz is betting on future economic conditions being better than today's, he said.

"The fact that few large-scale projects, or many projects at all, are being pursued here reinforces the importance of the impact of our proposal," he said. "An empty pipeline is not a positive for economic development."

Coburn said the projects also fill a void in the marketplace here, where mixed-use town centers like the ones Stoltz is proposing simply don't exist.

Barley Mill Plaza, Greenville Center and the Shops of Brandywine Valley will create “live, work and play” environments, which the county’s Comprehensive Plan promotes, he said.

But Mark Chura, executive director of Delaware Greenways and founding member of Citizens for Responsible Growth -- a group organized to lobby Stoltz on behalf of neighbors -- said scope and scale have to be considered.

"When you look at a project like Barley Mill for example, clearly nobody wants to see empty office buildings there," Chura said. "But the outrage speaks to the excess of the proposals relative to overall density and size. At a time when property values are already sliding, the prospects of having 12-story buildings or a King of Prussia in your backyard are dangerous."

The central issue for opponents of Greenville Center and Barley Mill Plaza is the height of some of the proposed buildings. And, they have often compared the 2.9-million-square foot Barley Mill plan to the King of Prussia Mall because they are similar is size.
But Mark Kleinschmidt, who heads the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, said residents should consider more than whether buildings are taller than what they're used to.

"This recession is going to start hitting closer to home," he said. "And if we don't have a community to offer a reasonable process for growth, we're going to have a huge problem."

Still, Stoltz has shown willingness to compromise on density, offering to cut its Barley Mill plan in half in exchange for community support. Coburn says his company will continue to meet with residents and Citizens for Responsible Growth to discuss ways to make the plans more palatable for them.
But Coburn is not sure residents really grasp the projects' true economic impact.

"Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent nationally to boost the economy," he said. "On a much smaller scale and with entirely private dollars, we see our investment as having the same impact as the stimulus legislation – job creation and economic development."

County Executive Chris Coons agreed that economic development is vital to helping the county see its way out of its own economic woes that include a $40 million structural deficit and sliding real estate transfer tax revenues. But he pointed to the county's Unified Development Code as assurance for residents.

"In many other counties in America, the legislative body makes decisions about which land use plans advance in a very 'let's make a deal' environment," Coons said. "Here, the UDC has replaced speed with predictability and placed most of the decisions in the hands of the Land Use Department which makes an evaluation with no respect to economic conditions or politics."

 

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