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Redevelopment Battle: Weiner and Clark administration battle over key area of land use law - Community News

Redevelopment Battle: Weiner and Clark administration battle over key area of land use law
By Antonio Prado Community News June 29, 2011 
Two competing ordinances on how to handle the controversial issue of what should be dubbed as land use redevelopment projects have been presented before New Castle County Council.

Councilman Robert Weiner (R-Brandywine Hundred West & Greenville) said his legislation would require the developer to pay his fair share when it comes to traffic improvements and would close what he sees as a loophole when it comes to so-called “paper redevelopments” – projects given bonuses that are in reality targeted for parcels never fully built out.

Officials within County Executive Paul Clark’s administration believe they are on the right track with their ordinance, which officials say would ultimately give county residents plans conducive to the modern Unified Development Code.

Weiner believes his legislation gained traction when he implemented changes suggested by the Office of State Planning’s Preliminary Land Use Service (PLUS) with regard to making the developer pay his fair share for traffic improvements, among other things. Then, the New Castle County Planning Board voted 8-1 to not recommend the ordinance introduced by the Clark administration.

Meanwhile, Weiner says his superior ordinance is being ignored by the administration.

In response, County Attorney and Acting Chief Administrative Officer Gregg Wilson said he’s not certain which version Weiner wants reviewed. Since Weiner introduced his legislation in April, he has revised it twice.

“Normally, you’re supposed to share something with the Land Use Department 14 days before you introduce it,” Wilson said. “He introduced it without doing [so]; he has a legal right to do that. But the reason why you circulate it is so you don’t have all these problems.”

In the meantime, County Solicitor Wendy Danner plans to comment on the ordinance Weiner originally introduced, according to law, in April.

“But you are free, like any other sponsor, to come before the Planning Board and discuss changes you intend to make to the legislation,” she said. “It happens all the time. … And they’ll make a recommendation on them.”

That sets a new precedent, Weiner said in response.

“In fact, the administration and this council has a longstanding practice of supplanting ordinances with updated substitutes,” he said. “I’m being singled out and penalized with a new procedure that has no precedent and no support in the law.

“The failure of the Land Use Department and Law Department to address Substitute 2 is unprecedented and belies an unwillingness and fear to address real solutions to the flawed proposal of the administration in its redevelopment scheme.”

As Weiner puts it, the Clark administration’s take on redevelopment allows the Land Use Department to arbitrarily dub a project as redevelopment – whether it’s already developed or still a green field. Once a developer obtains redevelopment status, he doesn’t have to be concerned about traffic improvements, which is precisely the situation at Governor’s Square III or Barley Mill Plaza, he said. He dubbed the latter “the biggest project in the history of Delaware.”

“The bottom line is that if a project can do an end run of needed traffic improvements by simply being dubbed redevelopment, then the county has to be very careful in how that authority to label something as redevelopment can be awarded,” Weiner said.

The original redevelopment concept was limited to abandoned, underperforming, vacant shopping centers and gas stations, he said. The administration’s proposal, 11-020, would go even further in its misinterpretation of the law, making County Council irrelevant, he said.

As co-chairs of the Land Use Committee, Councilman Joseph Reda (D-Elsmere) and Councilman David Tackett (D-Christiana) are the automatic sponsors of the ordinance Weiner is vying against. Reda pointed to the B.J.’s that replaced the defunct Value City in Elsmere as evidence that redevelopment works.

“What if you had a building sitting there for five, six, ten years and nobody’s in it?” he said. “And all of a sudden, somebody says I’d like to have this piece of land and put this building in [with] a little larger footprint. What would you do? It’s better than having an eyesore.”

Tackett said one of his campaign platforms was to try to push for the redevelopment of rundown, dilapidated shopping centers that were severely under-utilized.

“You can’t make the process so bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape so that it’s easier to go rip up a field,” he said.

And council is cognizant of the fact that it has to deal with so-called paper redevelopment, Tackett and Reda said.

“When you talk about redevelopment with Target or Lord & Taylor’s [at Christiana Mall], people can see it,” Tackett said. “But when you’re talking about a field that might have committed square footage on it from an old code – without the UDC’s safeguards and provisions – you had to incentivize them to abandon that plan to come into our code. They’ll have more landscaping, stormwater management – everything. None of that is under the old code.”

Fifty years ago, for instance, when Prices Corner was proposed, county government’s antiquated zoning rules at the time did not anticipate the poor traffic circulation and the sea of asphalt that comprise this shopping center, Danner said. A more modern shopping center like Lantana Square has nice islands, good vehicular circulation, more landscaping and better lighting standards.

With regard to traffic impact, the traffic impact study (TIS) is indeed waived under current redevelopment standards, Danner said. But DelDOT can request a TIS if officials there feel there is enough impact, or a traffic operational analysis.

The Tackett-Reda redevelopment substitute ordinance would allow the Land Use Department to request a TIS so it is not completely reliant on DelDOT, Danner said. If Reda and Tackett accept the changes, she anticipates that they will introduce that substitute ordinance in two weeks.

But Weiner believes Clark administration officials have applied a double standard in approving redevelopment projects, with fast-tracked approvals reserved for favored developers.

“They don’t apply the law consistently to all developers,” ‘he said. “It’s Orwellian – ‘some are more equal than others.’”

Wilson and Danner ask where is Weiner’s evidence that the administration is treating anybody any differently?

“What I think everybody fails to understand at Barley Mill is they can still build a boatload of square footage that they have a vested right in constructing,” Danner said. “It’s going to generate traffic – probably much more in the peak hours- than what’s being proposed now [with the CRG-Stoltz compromise].”

Copyright 2011 The Community News. Some rights reserved 

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