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9/24/2010
Citizens group urges wariness of Stoltz; Town hall meeting on Barley Mill project distrustful of scaled-down plan - News Journal

Delaware business: Citizens group urges wariness of Stoltz
Town hall meeting on Barley Mill project distrustful of scaled-down plan
BY CHAD LIVENGOOD • THE NEWS JOURNAL • SEPTEMBER 24, 2010 

The crowd cheers for New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner at a meeting held by Citizens for Responsible Growth Thursday. (The News Journal/WILLIAM BRETZGER)


County Councilman Bob Weiner, a Republican, said residents should demand "legally binding" height restrictions at Greenville Center to prevent Stoltz from seeking a 180-foot tower in the future.

"They're only dangling the new proposal. They haven't committed to withdrawing the old ones," Weiner said. "Without these written protections, preparation for litigation should proceed."

Weiner's comments got a standing ovation from dozens of the nearly 400 people who packed into the high school auditorium.

Weiner added that Stoltz's deal with Coons could "could be withdrawn after the November election at any time."

Leaders of a citizens group warned 400 residents Thursday night they should not let down their guard now that a developer has offered to scale back two Greenville-area projects.

"This battle is far from over," said John Danzeisen, a member of Citizens for Responsible Growth, which has led the fight against Stoltz Real Estate Partners.

Some residents also speculated that New Castle Executive Chris Coons was politically motivated to negotiate the changes with Stoltz to advance his Democratic campaign for the U.S. Senate.

CRG's town hall meeting at A.I. du Pont High School was scheduled before Coons announced Wednesday that he had brokered a deal with Stoltz to scale back its projects.

It is part of CRG's ongoing campaign against the projects that attracted support from residents across New Castle County and included threats to file legal challenges to the Coons administration's initial approval of Stoltz's original plans at Barley Mill Plaza and Greenville Center.

Stoltz announced Wednesday a plan to build a two-story commercial building at its Greenville Center shopping complex instead of a 12-story residential tower and scale back its Barley Mill Plaza redevelopment plans to 1.6 million square feet. 
The developer had sought to build a 2.8-million-square-foot mixed use complex with offices, restaurants, shops and residential condominiums.

Several Greenville-area residents were skeptical about the timing of Coons taking credit for the deal because it came after a series of News Journal articles that analyzed how the projects have been scrutinized by state and county agencies. It also came after Coons' became the apparent front-runner in the Senate race against Republican Christine O'Donnell.

"Maybe we have Christine O'Donnell to thank for this," said Tony Lunger, who lives next door to Stoltz's Greenville Center shopping complex. "Maybe Coons getting a shot at actually winning the seat made him step off the sidelines and address this."

Coons said Wednesday he felt it was his "duty" to work on a compromise in the land-use dispute, which he doesn't normally get involved with publicly.

O'Donnell, who has maintained a residence in Greenville, suggested Coons was trying to score political points before the Nov. 2 election.

"There is an old saying in politics that people like Mr. Coons only see the light when they feel the heat," O'Donnell said in a statement. "Clearly, the investigation by The News Journal is putting the heat on Mr. Coons."

Coons did not attend CRG's meeting, but sent members of his staff. Coons campaign spokesman Daniel McElhatton said the second-term county executive's "record of transparency that he's brought to county government" is "without question."

"Ms. O'Donnell's comments are irresponsible," McElhatton said after the meeting.

County Councilman Bob Weiner, a Republican, said residents should demand "legally binding" height restrictions at Greenville Center to prevent Stoltz from seeking a 180-foot tower in the future.

"They're only dangling the new proposal. They haven't committed to withdrawing the old ones," Weiner said. "Without these written protections, preparation for litigation should proceed."

Weiner's comments got a standing ovation from dozens of the nearly 400 people who packed into the high school auditorium.

Weiner added that Stoltz's deal with Coons could "could be withdrawn after the November election at any time."

If Coons is elected to the Senate, County Council President Paul Clark would automatically succeed him as county executive. Clark -- whose wife, Pam Scott, is Stoltz's land-use attorney -- has said he would abstain from the matter.

Stoltz's new proposal would require a rezoning of 37 acres along Del. 141 at the Barley Mill Plaza site to accommodate 454,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Under the old plan, Stoltz would have had the right to build a mixture of office, retail and residential space under the longtime DuPont Co. office complex's current zoning classification.

The Pennsylvania-based developer also said it would file new plans to build a 6,000-square-foot retail or office building in front of the former Columbia Gas Co. building on Route 100. That plan would require amending deed restrictions and rezoning 2 acres on the 19.8-acre property to commercial use, Stoltz said.

Stoltz has said if it doesn't get its rezoning and variances for parking approved for the new plans, then it could resurrect the previous proposals.

"Once it's changed to commercial, anything goes," said Bob Valihura, an attorney and chairman of CRG.

Under its new plan for Barley Mill Plaza, Stoltz is still pursuing redevelopment status to level the office complex and build a new campus.

Armed with donations from some of Delaware's wealthiest residents, CRG has hired attorneys, traffic and building consultants to scrutinize the details of Stoltz's projects.

In April, the group took a legal analysis of the Greenville Center proposal to Coons, challenging the legality of the plans. Since then, Coons said he's been in negotiations with Stoltz to get the developer to listen to the community's concerns.

One resident asked how much money CRG has raised so far and how much does it need.

"Let me answer that directly: There are Stoltz representatives in the room," said Valihura, a former Republican state representative. "I'm not going to tell my opponent how much I have to spend."
 
VIEW THE VIDEO FROM THE MEETING:

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