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6/8/2011
Scaled-down Barley Mill plan still runs into stiff opposition - News Journal

Jun. 8, 2011  News Journal Written by ADAM TAYLOR and LEX WILSON 

The scaled-back plan to turn Barley Mill Plaza into a large strip mall and office complex came under fire Tuesday from 20 residents who told the New Castle County Planning Board to reject the compromise plan.

The residents included leaders of regional civic groups that represent dozens of local neighborhood organizations in the northern part of the county. They also included former donors to Citizens for Responsible Growth, the group that brokered the compromise plan with Stoltz Real Estate Partners.

Stoltz originally sought to build a 2.8-million-square-foot mixed-use project. Then-County Executive Chris Coons brokered the 1.6-million-square-foot compromise last fall for the former DuPont Co. property at Del. 141 and Lancaster Pike. CRG fine-tuned that deal.

Tom Dewson of Greenville said he rejects the notion that Stoltz has the option of building the larger original proposal if the county doesn't approve the compromise.

"That's like being asked if we want to jump off the Delaware Memorial Bridge or the Commodore Barry Bridge," Dewson said. "We don't view it as an 'either-or.' We want all alternative options to be considered."

Richard Beck, a CRG leader, said the opponents have "wonderful idealism." He thinks Stoltz would build the original plan, which includes 10-story buildings and 700 residential units that were eliminated in the compromise proposal.

The Planning Board will vote on whether to recommend the plan to County Council later this month. The council will vote on the plan in October. Stoltz wants commercial zoning status for 37 of the 92 acres on the site.

CRG officer John Danzeisen, Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred President Bob Valihura and CRG founder Patty Hobbs testified in favor of the compromise, which includes prohibitions on big-box stores, convenience stores and gas stations and imposes a four-story cap on the height of office buildings.

"This project, the size of both halves of the King of Prussia Mall, was being proposed with 10-story office buildings towering over residential neighborhoods," Valihura said. "The retail component of this project would have dwarfed everything in the immediate vicinity ... and traffic would have 

Twenty speakers opposed the plan, including several former CRG supporters. They included state lawmakers Deborah Hudson, Gerald Brady and Westover Hills resident David Amado, who is the music director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.

Most said increased traffic congestion was their biggest fear.

"As it stands now, traffic reduces conversation in my yard to lip-reading at rush hour," Amado said.

Others said CRG abandoned their interests during the group's three-year effort to forge the compromise.

Resident Laurie Nicoli said there is "palpable anger" among the opponents and that their voices "are only getting louder, bigger and stronger."

Christine Whitehead of Mill Creek said traffic and stormwater runoff concerns are enough to shoot the plan down.

"When you do not have the vital data with which to evaluate the potential adverse impacts of a rezoning, you must deny it," Whitehead said.

She said the project is "infected" because County Executive Paul Clark's wife, land-use attorney Pam Scott, represented Stoltz until she resigned in March.

"No one in the Land Use Department can ignore the fact that a man who can fire or demote them wants this rezoning approved because his wife spent years working on it," Whitehead said.

Scott resigned from the Saul Ewing law firm after the county Ethics Commission ruled that either Scott or Clark had to resign to end the potential for conflict.

CRG's Beck tried to defend the group against the residents' criticisms. He said the group didn't take their money and then leave them out of the process.

"Everyone who thinks they were unheard were heard," Beck said. "The problem is, a decision needed to be made. We did our best to decide what we perceived was what the majority of the community wanted."

Mark Blake, president of the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association, said CRG's contention that the group represents most residents is "disingenuous and patently false."

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