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Opposition to CRG-Stoltz compromise encouraged by Planning Board's nay vote - Community News

By Antonio Prado Community News Posted Jun 22, 2011 @ 05:29 PM
Community opposition to rezoning Barley Mill Plaza to allow for 1.65 million square feet of office and commercial development received a boost from the New Castle County Planning Board’s vote Tuesday to recommend denial of the zoning change.

The Planning Board voted 5-2, with two abstentions, on the measure.Stoltz Real Estate Partners owns the 96-acre office park that was formerly a DuPont Co. site.

“We’re very excited,” Westover Hills Woods resident Berta Kerr said. “I think it sends a message loud and clear that there is a lot of community opposition to this plan."

However, the developer took heart with the fact that the county Department of Land Use went on record before the Planning Board Tuesday with its plan to give a favorable recommendation for the rezoning to New Castle County Council.

"We are pleased that the Department of Land Use recommended in favor of the requested rezoning and we look forward to presenting the plans to County Council for its consideration," said Stoltz spokesman Tom Gailey, of GaileyMurray Communications.

County Council is scheduled to vote on the major development plan in October. Council takes into account recommendations from both the Planning Board and the Land Use Department on such projects, and council members must cite those recommendations are part of their votes.

Keith Stoltz caused an uproar among the affluent communities of Greenville and other parts of Chateau Country when he announced plans for a 2.8-million-square-foot mixed-use project at the former DuPont property off Del. Route 141 and Lancaster Pike in 2008. But former County Executive Chris Coons, now a U.S. senator, personally worked with Stoltz to lay the groundwork for the negotiations with a framework of compromise for both parties to work within. CRG and Stoltz then hashed out the details of that compromise.

The Planning Board learned at its June 7 meeting that many local residents were not happy with the compromise. They see this as an attempt to build a strip mall roughly one-half the size of Christiana Mall in their backyards.

They found allies throughout Greater Wilmington as top leaders from the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association, the Milltown-Limestone Civic Alliance and the Civic League for New Castle County, with representatives from those groups iterating their opposition to the compromise.

The Planning Board on Tuesday weighed the Land Use Department’s argument that bringing retail and commercial space to this plot of land represents a "remarkable opportunity" versus the community’s diametrically opposed view that the absence of commercial development is an asset for this part of Greenville, Chairman Victor Singer said.

“The prevailing view of the board was that the character of the neighborhood is the absence of commercial and that ought to be maintained,” Singer told Wednesday.

Land Use Assistant Planning Manager Ken Bieri presented the documented, favorable recommendation to the Planning Board.

“Mr. Singer is certainly entitled to his opinion,” Land Use spokesman Mark Veasey said. “The department presented an official position and we stand behind it.”

Singer abstained from the vote. About three years ago, when this application first surfaced in a different embodiment, CCOBH members asked him for some advice.

“I gave them some tactical advice that in effect amounted to a prejudgment on the merits of the proposal,” he said.

Sandra D. Anderson also felt she had a conflict because she had joined with the opposition before the matter formally came to the board, Singer added.

CRG member and Kennett Pike Association President John Danzeisen was disappointed in the decision made by the Planning Board. But he took exception with the board’s view that by choosing to not support the rezoning, that in effect would somehow preclude there being retail space at that location.

“The plans filed in 2008 by Stoltz – which are still on the table being held in abeyance – had 700,000 square feet of retail, Danzeisen said. “And that is by right, which means that they’re complying with every aspect of the code and they don’t need anyone’s authorization to do it. They have a right to do it.

“Those were the plans submitted in 2008 and it was through the effort of Chris Coons and CRG to downsize those plans,” he said. “And we solidified some long-term protections for the community.”

However, Councilman Robert Weiner (R-Brandywine Hundred West) Weiner said the “by right” status is a matter of interpretation.

“Sorry to be lawyer-like, but the Land Use Department provided irregular, preliminary approval to Stoltz for 2.85 million [square feet],” said Weiner, an attorney with Fox Rothschild. “Irregular, meaning by the interpretation of CRG, myself and others who are thoughtful, the Land Use Department acted irregularly. It was out of the ordinary. The community was considering litigation as a result.”

Nonetheless, Weiner and Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick (R-Hockessin) will continue to study the issue and examine the documentation regarding this proposal.

“At this point, the community has the ball in their lap,” Weiner said. “It doesn’t come to County Council until October. We have to consider all the information – all the reports, the Land Use recommendation, the Planning Board recommendation.”

County Council has the discretion to look a little more broadly at these things, Danzeisen said.

“The Planning Board tends to historically look at the smaller picture of these things – looking at the more technical aspects of the zoning change – whereas County Council has the ability to look more broadly at the impacts on the community, the other projects that are part and parcel of the same agreement and make better judgment,” he said.

At the June 7 meeting, 18 people spoke against the compromise – including Dori Jacobson and other members of the Save Our County group. Meanwhile five spoke in favor of it.

Despite appearances, Danzeisen believes a silent majority is on CRG’s side.

“Those that are in favor of the compromise are not so ecstatic about it that they’re going to come carry signs and make shouting remarks,” he said. “Let’s face it; this is a development that is an alternative to a much worse development.”

“We spent a lot of time talking to our constituents,” he said. “By the way, the people that spoke in favor represented KPA [Kennett Pike Association], CCOBH, Delaware Greenways, the Greenville Manor group and CRG. They represent about 10,000 households.”

But Kerr – from Save Our County – believes many people did not speak up because they thought the compromise was a done deal.

“It isn’t a done deal and that’s what we have to get across to people from now to October, that New Castle County Council should vote against,” she said. “There’s a huge difference between commercial regional and commercial neighborhood zoning. If [Stoltz] wanted commercial real estate, he should have bought commercial real estate.”

Copyright 2011 The Community News. Some rights reserved

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