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New Castle County to hear Weiner plans to reform law today - News Journal

Dueling redevelopment ordinances on table
New Castle County to hear plans to reform law today
11:33 PM, Jul. 5, 2011  |  16Comments Written by ADAM TAYLOR 

The ordinance sponsored by councilmen Joe Reda and Dave Tackett will be discussed at New Castle County Council's Land Use Committee meeting at 3 p.m. today. 
The meeting is on the eighth floor of the Louis L. Redding City-County Building, Eighth and French streets, Wilmington.

Councilman Robert Weiner's ordinance will be presented to the New Castle County Planning Board at 7 tonight in the Multi-Purpose Room of the county's Gilliam Building, 77 Reads Way near New Castle.

New Castle County's redevelopment law was created in 2002 with the idea of saving virgin farmland by giving builders incentives to create new shopping centers, offices and homes at old malls, gas stations and gravel pits.

Few could have imagined, nearly a decade later, that the proposed Governor's Square III Shopping Center at Del. 7 and U.S. 40 would have been granted redevelopment status. But for a small bank, the 37-acre property in Bear is a greenfield.

And many Greenville residents are furious that Barley Mill Plaza could be converted into a 1.6-million-square-foot commercial and office complex without a traffic-impact study, thanks to the redevelopment status granted to it by the county.

To address the issue, two competing ordinances have been designed to reform the redevelopment law -- and each will get a public airing in different forums today.

County Executive Paul Clark's administration and some developers favor a proposal by councilmen Dave Tackett and Joe Reda because they think another ordinance by Councilman Robert Weiner would be too restrictive. But some residents prefer Weiner's ordinance, saying the plan by Tackett and Reda doesn't go far enough and is too close to the current redevelopment law.

Either way, it's good news that change is being considered to Mill Creek resident Christine Whitehead, who said government officials grant developers redevelopment status when they should not, so jobs can be created. The redevelopment law fast-tracks a development plan and includes perks such as waivers from full-blown traffic studies and nonpayment of impact fees, which can total hundreds of thousands of dollars for a big project.

"It takes the breath away at how they make something something it's not with the redevelopment provision," Whitehead said. "There seems to be no limits on what elected officials will give up for the possibility of bringing in a few jobs."

The Reda-Tackett proposal includes the following tweaks: a requirement that projects not make already clogged intersections worse; giving fewer perks to developers in exchange for improvements such as parking spaces for disabled people, installation of bicycle parking racks and planting trees; and stricter rules for developers to add more amenities and infrastructure such as landscaping, stormwater controls and other improvements.

The Weiner ordinance would not give developers credit for previously recorded but unbuilt plans and would require that 50 percent of the existing buildings be razed to qualify for redevelopment status.

Unlike the Reda-Tackett plan, Weiner's ordinance would not give traffic-impact study waivers if the use of the site changes or if the size of the new project is bigger than the old one.

Weiner's plan also calls for a special public hearing, which would include public comment, on whether a project would get redevelopment status. Currently, and under Reda-Tackett, Land Use Department officials decide which projects get the special status.

Rocky start

The Reda-Tackett ordinance is off to a rocky start. It received a lukewarm response from state planners, and in May the county Planning Board voted 8-1 against recommending that County Council approve it.

The county Land Use Department, which authored the ordinance at the councilmen's request, has recommended council's approval.

Council's Land Use Committee will review the Reda-Tackett ordinance today. It could be voted on as early as the next County Council meeting, which is July 12.

Land Use General Manager David Culver said the ordinance is mostly a housekeeping measure and doesn't include any major changes to the current redevelopment provision.

The county's acting Chief Administrative Officer, Gregg Wilson, said Clark's administration has attached itself to the Reda-Tackett proposal.

"We think it's the more reasonable one of the two," Wilson said. "It also has the best chance of getting passed by council."

There are 10 Democrats and three Republicans on council. Reda and Tackett are Democrats. Weiner is a Republican.

Weiner said the Reda-Tackett ordinance is deficient. Paper redevelopment -- a phrase used to describe projects granted redevelopment status even though there are few old buildings to demolish -- would remain, he said.

"The Reda-Tackett plan would give developers credit for previously recorded but unbuilt plans, which would allow for future Governor Square-type redevelopments," Weiner said.

Weiner said neither ordinance would affect current redevelopment plans already in the legislative pipeline.

Bear resident Sue Peirce and Whitehead, the Mill Creek resident, agree with Weiner.

"It seems the Reda-Tackett would allow developers to do just about anything, including paper redevelopment without traffic-impact studies," Peirce said.

"Councilman Weiner's ordinance removes the opportunity for developing vacant land under the redevelopment law, offering much more protection than what the Reda-Tackett ordinance would provide," Whitehead said.

Going too far?

Weiner's proposal received a more favorable reaction from state planners but was introduced later than the Reda-Tackett plan. Weiner's ordinance will be reviewed by the county Planning Board tonight.

Paul Morrill Jr., executive director of the Committee of 100, said the business and economic development group favors the Reda-Tackett plan.

"We think that encouraging development in an already developed area is still worth incentivizing," Morrill said.

Land use attorney Lisa Goodman said she worries that Weiner's plan goes too far. His plan would allow redevelopment only on properties that are "vacant, abandoned or underused."

"It will not only actively discourage development, it could encourage property owners to let their sites sit and deteriorate in order to qualify for redevelopment," Goodman said.

The redevelopment law, which already has been amended four times, originally was enacted to make the county's Unified Development Code that was passed in 1998 less restrictive for developers.

The UDC was designed to eliminate sprawl in southern New Castle County but backfired because county officials found that it was even more restrictive for parcels in the densely developed northern part of the county. So builders soon realized that it was easier to build on farmland than it was on Concord Pike or Kirkwood Highway.

The redevelopment law was created to make it more attractive for developers to redo an old site instead of build on a farm closer to the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

Wilson, the county's acting CAO, said such incentives are vital to keep and that Weiner's ordinance would end them.

Whitehead thinks the opposite is true.

"If the county is going to use the redevelopment law to allow projects to be built on never-used land based on huge plans approved before the UDC was passed, we might as well throw out all the county regulations with regard to land use," she said.

Tackett said Friday afternoon he still hopes to make changes to his ordinance before the council reviews it. He wasn't specific about the changes, but said they would make it harder for paper redevelopment projects to get approved and also increase traffic-improvement requirements, but still wouldn't require a complete traffic-impact study.

"I actually don't think paper redevelopment is that bad of an issue, but the public is having a tough time getting their arms around it and visualizing it, so I have no problem dealing with it in the ordinance," Tackett said.

Weiner said his ordinance would also end the practice of selectively granting redevelopment status to some projects and rejecting it for others. Weiner said the Stopyra tract near Holy Angels School and Church near Newark and the Pike Creek Golf Club were more qualified for redevelopment status than Governor's Square but were rejected.

The county's Wilson denied Weiner's contention that the county favors one developer over another.

"Currently the Land Use Department is totally free to grant irregular approvals for redevelopment to whomever they want," Weiner said. "It's Orwellian, like something from 'Animal Farm,' where everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others."

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