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9/23/2010
Project shrinks, tower disappears. If plan doesn't get OK, original could be resurrected - News Journal

Project shrinks, tower disappears
If plan doesn't get OK, original could be resurrected
BY CHAD LIVENGOOD • THE NEWS JOURNAL • SEPTEMBER 23, 2010 

County Councilman Bob Weiner said Coons' deal with Stoltz "is not a negotiated settlement."

"This is a one-sided take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum based on the false position buttressed by county officials that Stoltz had any legal basis to demand the proposal on file," said Weiner, an attorney who has urged the citizens to consider challenging the legality of the projects in court.


Facing widespread and well-funded community opposition, Stoltz Real Estate Partners on Wednesday suspended plans to build a 12-story residential tower in Greenville  and a 2.8-million-square-foot mixed-use complex at Barley Mill Plaza along Del. 141.

Stoltz now says it will submit a scaled-back plan to build 1.6 million square feet of commercial and office space at Barley Mill Plaza, reducing the height of proposed buildings from nine stories to four. The new plan also eliminates a 12-story tower along Kennett Pike in Greenville Center.

The new plan for Barley Mill Plaza would require New Castle  County Council to rezone 37 acres along Del. 141 from office to commercial use. The new Greenville Center plan requires a variance for fewer parking spaces. If both plans are not approved by the county, Stoltz could return to its original plans, which don't require rezoning.

"We're hopeful they'll be approved, but the original Barley Mill and Greenville 
plans are still there to be pursued," said Stoltz spokesman Tom Gailey.
Residents of Greenville and west Wilmington's upscale neighborhoods have voiced objections to one of the largest development projects  in northern Delaware for the past two years. They have argued that state and county officials have not listened to their grievances about increased traffic, noise and damage to the community's character.

Wednesday's announcement was brokered by New Castle County Executive Chris Coons. 

It followed a series of News Journal articles analyzing how the state and county have allowed Stoltz to push the boundaries of the county's development code in both projects.

Without seeing details, some residents were skeptical of the new plans.

"It's a lot like Ronald Reagan  in the Cold War with the Russians -- trust but verify," said Tom Dewson, who lives on Hillside Road near Stoltz's Greenville Center shopping complex. "We've been put through an ordeal here by the Stoltz organization. We're only getting this apparent movement because we've shown resolve and are preparing for litigation."
 
Patty Hobbs of Greenville, founder of Citizens for Responsible Growth, which led opposition to the plan, complained that her group was not part of Coons' negotiations with Stoltz. Her umbrella group of civic associations has been raising money for possible lawsuits to stop the original projects. CRG spent $30,000 on consultants to develop a smaller plan for Barley Mill Plaza and scrutinize the engineering of the Greenville Center tower.

"It's just a shame they didn't include us in their talks," Hobbs said of Coons, who announced the changes in a letter Wednesday to "concerned citizens" and County Council members.

Coons said he negotiated with Stoltz directly, acting as an intermediary between the two sides.

"The combination of personalities and issues in the rooms, they never reached that conclusion," he said.

But he added, "This was a resolution that both sides were ready to reach."
Coons said after he relayed the concerns of the community, "Stoltz recognized that there were some real legitimate concerns in terms of traffic, quality of life and stormwater."

County Councilman Bob Weiner said Coons' deal with Stoltz "is not a negotiated settlement."

"This is a one-sided take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum based on the false position buttressed by county officials that Stoltz had any legal basis to demand the proposal on file," said Weiner, an attorney who has urged the citizens to consider challenging the legality of the projects in court.

Gov. Jack Markell said Stoltz's new "proposal appears to be a better fit for the surrounding community" that CRG leaders said they could accept.

In recent weeks, the Elsmere Town Council passed a resolution opposing the project because of stormwater runoff problems and 17 prominent lawyers chastised the Delaware Department of Transportation for not requiring a full traffic impact study from Stoltz for the Barley Mill Plaza plan.

Wednesday's announcement came a day before the CRG town hall meeting at A.I. du Pont High School tonight. Coons, who is running for U.S. Senate, said he won't be attending the meeting but will send a representative.

Some members of CRG say Stoltz is finally listening to their concerns.

"Our objective has always been to try and achieve positive and responsible growth," said Richard Beck, a CRG member and land-use attorney. "It looks like the parameters may be set."

Some said there are still several unanswered questions about the traffic impact at Barley Mill Plaza, which Stoltz now proposes at 454,000 square feet of commercial space -- an 8 percent reduction from the previous plan.

Stoltz has not yet filed new plans with New Castle County's Land Use Department, Gailey said.

"The details are critical," said Laurie Nicoli, who lives in Westover Hills Woods on Barley Mill Road. "I think, in this area, that the traffic question is significant."

Bill Rowe, who lives in the neighborhood that borders Greenville Center, said he wants to see deed restrictions on the height of buildings at the complex, to prevent Stoltz from building a high-rise tower in the future.

"The restriction ought to be in height, not in stories, because they could have a story that's 25 feet high and another story that's 15 feet," Rowe said. "My feeling is this is a step in the right direction, but it's not the final step."

Stoltz had been pushing to level the current office buildings at Barley Mill Plaza at Del. 141 and Lancaster Pike and build a new 2.8-million-square-foot complex of retail, restaurants, a hotel, office and residential space.

Stoltz said it would file new plans to build a 1.65-million-square-foot commercial and office complex, with 454,000 square feet devoted to retail space and the remaining 1.2 million square feet for office space . Stoltz bought the 1 million-square-foot office complex from DuPont Co. for $94 million in 2007.

"We hope these significantly revised plans will address many of the questions and concerns that have been raised by the community," Brad Coburn, Stoltz's chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Gailey said Stoltz still plans to pursue redevelopment status at Barley Mill Plaza, which Weiner also criticized.

"We're still stuck with a redevelopment ordinance that applies to perfectly functioning office complexes," said Weiner, who with Coons championed the redevelopment ordinance.

Stoltz said it would file plans to build a bank building at the corner of Buck Road and Kennett Pike, instead of a new post office as originally planned for Greenville Center.

"We invested many hours during the last two years trying to find a compromise," Coburn said. "We believe we have found that middle ground and greatly appreciate the time, effort and support of County Executive Coons in guiding this process."

Coons has been working to find a middle ground between Stoltz and community leaders for months as CRG started raising money to potentially challenge the county in court.

State Sen. Michael Katz, D-Centreville, said the concessions from Stoltz were the result of residents organizing in near-total opposition to the original plans.

"It's truly a result of the community coming together and working together and voicing its concerns," Katz said.

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"Iíd like to express my appreciation to Councilman Bob Weiner who exhibits strength, determination and fortitude and is always on the side of the people. I followed Bobís actions when he was head of CCOBH's zoning committee and made strong efforts to try to stop the Brandywine Town Center construction. He has continued with energy and zeal in many pivotal positions in spite of enduring a lot of negative professional and personal attacks. I appreciate that he is never deterred."

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