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Building projects get NCCo's initial OK - News Journal

Barley Mill, Greenville plans still face hurdles
By ANGIE BASIOUNY • The News Journal • March 23, 2009

Two controversial development projects by Stoltz Real Estate Partners have received initial approval from New Castle County.

The green light from the county's Department of Land Use allows the developers to move ahead with the next stage of planning to rebuild the former DuPont Barley Mill Plaza complex near Del. 141 and the Greenville Center, a mix of shops, offices and residential space at Kennett Pike and Buck Road.

"We are very pleased that both [plans] have been approved," said Brad Coburn, chief operating officer of Stoltz, which is based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. "We recognize we have a good deal of work ahead of us before these projects are complete, and expect to continue to work with New Castle County and the community to build the best projects possible."

The approvals were issued earlier this month, after a contentious Planning Board meeting that drew more than 100 residents who called on officials to kill the plans or require modifications. The Barley Mill project calls for 2.9 million square feet of mixed-use space, while the Greenville site includes a proposed 12-story building.

Residents object to the size and scale of the developments, worried they will create traffic congestion, overwhelm surrounding neighborhoods and be out of character with the area.

Although the initial plans were tweaked to meet certain land-use requirements, the main features -- including the square footage and the tall building in Greenville -- remain intact.

However, the company said, it is continuing to work with residents to make changes before the final planning stage is submitted for approval.

Mark Chura, who leads Citizens for Responsible Growth in New Castle County, a coalition of residents and organizations fighting the projects, said he believes the compromise will happen. Residents are advocating less square footage and a tower half as tall, he said.

"We really want to commend the folks we've been working with at the Stoltz organization for what I think is really positive dialogue over the last few months," Chura said Sunday. "They've offered to make significant concessions."

Chura is executive director of Delaware Greenways, which is also a member of the coalition. He said residents are eager to start discussing details with Stoltz.

"We're at an awkward time right now because the concerns that are being expressed by the neighbors really focus on the filed plans that ultimately will not be the plans that are approved," he said.

It typically takes development projects about two years to move through the county's land-use process. The initial approval this month moves the plans from the first stage, called exploratory, to the preliminary stage. The third and final stage is known as "record plan," which must be approved before the developers can begin applying for permits to begin construction.

Councilman Robert Weiner, whose district includes Greenville Center and borders the Barley Mill site, has been an outspoken critic of the projects and said he is closely monitoring them.

"I believe that the out-of-state traffic that will be generated by these projects, if approved, would diminish, if not destroy, our community character," he said. "I believe our precious state resources should not be used to finance the massive public infrastructure necessary to support this huge speculative development."

He continued: "If the Stoltz organization thought the community would feel discouraged by these conditional approvals, they're wrong."

Stoltz made headlines about a year ago when it announced plans for five major development projects in New Castle County worth about $750 million. The three other projects:

•Montchanin Corporate Center: An expansion of the former MBNA office campus at Del. 141 and Montchanin Road that was once the headquarters of Columbia Gas Systems Inc. Stoltz bought the nearly 20-acre office campus from Bank of America with plans to build a 36,501-square-foot, two-story office building.

•New Castle Town Center: A $100 million shopping center near New Castle at the site of Parkway Gravel at Churchmans Road and Del. 273. The 524,000-square-foot center would have shops, restaurants and entertainment.

•Shops at Brandywine Valley: A walkable community on U.S. 202 with high-end retail shopping and restaurants, residences, a park-and-ride, hotel and green space.

None of the three projects has received exploratory-stage approval.

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