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Barley Mill plan tabled; Residents pack meeting on proposed shopping complex - News Journal

Barley Mill plan tabled
Residents pack meeting on proposed shopping complex

Oct. 12, 2011  News Journal - Adam Taylor

New Castle County Council voted early this morning to table a plan to redevelop the Barley Mill Plaza office complex into a new office and commercial center that would include a 450,000-square-foot shopping center.

The vote lengthens a three-year effort by Pennsylvania-based Stoltz Real Estate Partners to move forward with its plans, which were scaled back by 1.2 million square feet along the way in an effort to gain the community's support.

The vote came after an unusual attempt to amend the rezoning ordinance orally to include deed restrictions that would be enforceable by the county. The original plan would have left enforcement of the restrictions -- limiting building heights to four stories and providing other protections -- to private citizens.

Stoltz lawyer John Tracey took the move as good sign for his client.

"We appreciate the fact that council seems to be working through this complicated matter diligently," Tracey said.

"The actions by council demonstrate that they are going to give this serious consideration."

Greenville resident Tom Dewson, who fought to have council deny the plan, intimated a court fight could take place before Stoltz can put a shovel in the ground. "People across New Castle County have been clear -- a Christiana Mall at the gateway to the Brandywine Valley is unacceptable," Dewson said. "The law clearly lays out the standards for rezoning, and we'll be discussing how we move forward to have the voice of the people heard."

"This is a monumental decision," said Dick Beck, a leader with the Citizens for Responsible Growth group that wanted the council to approve the plan.

David Amado, director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, told the council that Stoltz's plan would hurt Wilmington's chances for an economic comeback.

"It is in your power to exercise your sense of social responsibility," Amado said.

The Barley Mill plan is the most controversial development plan most county officials can remember.

Stoltz first sought to build 2.8 million square feet of office, commercial and residential space on the 92-acre site at Del. 141 and Del. 48 near Greenville.

Not even Stoltz's compromise to reduce the plan to a 1.6-million-square-foot office and commercial center could gain the developer overwhelming support from residents. The community was split in two.

Citizens for Responsible Growth was formed in 2008 to try to stop the larger plan. But the best the group could do was negotiate deed restrictions on the property. CRG has lobbied council to approve the plan, saying Stoltz would build the larger plan if the scaled-back compromise is rejected.

Save Our County, formed by people dissatisfied with the compromise, has said Stoltz is bluffing and doesn't want to build the larger plan in the current real estate market. They wanted the council to reject the plan and force Stoltz to build something that's allowable under the current office-regional zoning designation.

The scaled-back plan included the rezoning of 37 of the site's 92 acres to allow for the shopping center.

Giving Stoltz the commercial-regional rezoning would allow Stoltz to build the shopping center all at once. In exchange, Stoltz agreed to reduce the size of the development. Under the current office-regional zoning, Stoltz would have to build residential units in proportion to the amount of commercial space constructed.

The county Land Use Department recommended that the council approve the plan, saying the intersection of Del. 141 and Del. 48 is suitable for more intense development. The county Planning Board wants the council to reject the plan, saying it's out of character with the immediate neighborhood.

Twenty-two residents spoke against the plan and 21 spoke in favor it at Tuesday's council meeting.

Gretchen Mercer, president of the Centreville Civic Association, told the council Citizens for Responsible Growth did a good job in ensuring protections from Stoltz that will make the compromise plan as least damaging as possible.

"By approving the rezoning necessary to implement the downsized plans developed by CRG, you are not just protecting the historic beauty of the Brandywine area, but are also setting an example for others to follow in the future," Mercer said.

Dori Jacobson of Save Our County agrees the vote would set a precedent -- but not a good one. Approving the change could change Del. 141 from a commuter to a commercial corridor, she said. Jacobson also objected to the package-deal aspect of privately-enforced deed restrictions for Barley Mill and three other Stoltz projects in the area: Greenville Center, the former Kirkwood Fitness property and the old Columbia Gas site.

"For decades, the office-regional zoning of Barley Mill Plaza has set ground rules by which tens of thousands or residents and business owners have thoughtfully made their choice about where to put their hard-earned dollars," Jacobson said. "Now, because a developer has negotiated a four-parcel deal -- with completely inadequate community input -- that developer and one group of fearful citizens are begging you to change the rules."

Citizens for Responsible Growth President John Danzeisen said the group engaged the community at every opportunity.

"We took extensive steps to poll the community through its leaders and neighborhood representatives, as well as by direct email and received an overwhelming approval of the basic concept," Danzeisen said. "...We repeatedly called meetings of the representatives of the surrounding communities to comment on the deed restrictions as negotiations and drafts went forward."

Save Our County's Chris McEvilly said Stoltz's proposal failed all the criteria for council to approve a rezoning. The property isn't consistent with nearby zoning, would have major impact on nearby properties and the office-commercial plan isn't suitable for Barley Mill Plaza itself, she said.

"Unfortunately, the developer's scare tactics -- threatening a King-of-Prussia scale development -- have obscured the facts," McEvilly said

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