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9/5/2011
Stoltz building plan will tarnish heritage; Developer wants restriction lifted - News Journal

Stoltz building plan will tarnish heritage
Developer wants restriction lifted
Sep. 5, 2011  Written by CHAD LIVENGOOD The News Journal 

IF YOU GO
WHAT: New Castle Planning Board meeting
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Multipurpose Room, Gilliam Building, 77 Reads Way, New Castle Corporate Commons

Construction of a 6,000-square-foot, one-story building typically doesn't draw a lot of criticism from residents in New Castle County.

But that's likely to happen Tuesday during a county Planning Board hearing on Stoltz Real Estate Partners' plan to construct a commercial building near the intersection of Kennett Pike and Montchanin Road in Greenville.

Stoltz is requesting the county lift a 1968 deed restriction placed on the former MBNA office campus that restricts the 19.8-acre property's usage to a single building.

The developer has a separate request to have two acres rezoned from office use to the commercial neighborhood designation, which would allow for the construction of small retail shops and restaurants facing Montchanin Road near the Kennett Pike intersection.

Developer Keith Stoltz's plans at 20 Montchanin Road are part of a deal he forged with a citizens group in February to get community buy-in for four commercial and office building construction projects in Wilmington's most affluent suburbs.

Stoltz's centerpiece project is an ambitious plan to raze the former DuPont office complex at Del. 141 and Lancaster Pike and redevelop Barley Mill Plaza into a 1.6 million-square-foot commercial and office complex. A rezoning request for that property is pending before the County Council.

The company already has won approvals for zoning variances at the former Kirkwood Fitness Club and Greenville Center shopping complex on Kennett Pike.

Compromise

After being on the verge of taking Stoltz and the county to court, Citizens for Responsible Growth compromised with Stoltz to secure concessions from the property owner to limit the size and height of its planned buildings.

Because Stoltz has the upper hand under Delaware's property rights laws, CRG leaders have conceded there was little they could do to stop him. Under the agreement Stoltz struck with CRG and former County Executive Chris Coons, the developer has the option to walk away from the deal if all four projects are not ultimately approved, said John Danzeisen, a CRG member and president of the Kennett Pike Association.

"If we don't go with the compromise, he's going to go back to his original plans, and that would be a disaster," Danzeisen said.

Stoltz spokesman Tom Gailey agreed.

"Per the agreement, Stoltz can abandon the compromise plans and continue processing the previously filed project plans if all the compromise plans do not receive the requisite approvals," Gailey said in an email.

At the former MBNA site, which was once the headquarters of Columbia Gas Systems, Stoltz originally filed plans to build a new 36,501-square-foot medical office building 40 feet from the road's edge.

Now Stoltz has offered to limit the size of the building to 6,000 square feet and the height to 25 feet -- plus 10 feet for rooftop mechanical equipment -- through deed restrictions, as long as he gets lucrative commercial zoning for the land.

Opposition

Since CRG cut its deal with Stoltz, a second citizens group, Save Our County, has formed. The group contends residents are still getting a raw deal and little protection from the influx of traffic that Stoltz's developments are likely to attract.

Residents in that coalition from Milltown, Hockessin, Greenville and west Wilmington neighborhoods plan to attend Tuesday's meeting to testify against the plan.

Save Our County contends Stoltz's Montchanin Road plan would destroy the historic character of the parcel, which is in the vicinity of St. Joseph's on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church, Hagley Museum and the Brecks Mill Area-Henry Clay Village Historic District.

The property is bounded by Barley Mill Road to the north and Kennett Pike, the state's first national scenic byway, to the south.

"There's no justifiable reason to compromise our cultural and natural heritage, especially on a recognized national scenic byway," said Tom Dewson, a member of Save Our County.

In opposing the Montchanin Road project, Save Our County also contends the county isn't legally obligated to give Stoltz everything he wants in a take-it-or-leave-it concession process. Each project should be scrutinized separately, Dewson said.

Stoltz has millions tied up in Greenville-area real estate  deals the developer invested in before the recession hit.

In 2006, Stoltz bought the MBNA building from Bank of America for $20 million, county records show. The developer turned around the next year and paid the DuPont Co. $94 million for its Barley Mill Plaza complex and has rented back some of the buildings to DuPont. Others sit empty.

"Everybody knows Barley Mill is the deal," Dewson said. "That's what Stoltz wants and that's what Stoltz is driving hard for."

Stoltz has said its use of the commercial space on Montchanin Road is undetermined, but the zoning designation would allow for a high-turnover restaurant that could generate 763 vehicle trips per day, according to data from the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Stoltz representatives have told CRG leaders they want to find a bank or financial services tenant for the site, Danzeisen said.

Whitehall proposal

The county planning board will be busy Tuesday.

In addition to the controversial Stoltz plan, the board will be presented with the first phase to develop 1,214 acres south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal under the county's new village and hamlet law.

Delaware developer Whitehall Inc. will make its case to the board for its plans to build 499 residential units and 79,300 square feet of nonresidential and ancillary uses on 145.22 acres of a walkable mixed village along Lorewood Grove Road.

The project is the first of seven villages and hamlets Whitehall wants to build between the canal and a planned U.S. 301 toll road. The master plan calls for 3,310 new residential units and 614,900 square feet of commercial space spread out across 902.88 acres.

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