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3/5/2012
Bob Weiner comments upon Comp Plan; NCCo looks to expand ways of transferring development - News Journal

County Councilman Bob Weiner, a Brandywine Hundred resident, said the pro-posed program expansion makes sense because successful TDR programs across the country have large quantities of farms to sell the development rights and a larger pool of builders to buy them.

He also thinks there is merit to the current system of requiring that open space created from the sale of development rights be located near the project that resulted from it. “People who live in or near the density should be able to enjoy the open-space trade-off,” Weiner said. “Any change that would remove that should have a very broad public discussion with communities across the state, particularly with those in the proposed higher- density zones.” 

NCCo looks to expand ways of transferring development; Program Expansion would need approval of General Assembly

By ADAM TAYLOR The News Journal 3/5/12

New Castle County officials want to create a program to allow developers to build projects in the northern part of the county that are more crowded than currently al-lowed in exchange for buying the development rights to farmland south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

It would expand the county’s largely unsuccessful transfer of development rights program. Created in 1998, the program has been used only twice, preserving about 400 acres of farmland, said David Culver, general manager of the county’s Land Use Department.

Currently, the program requires that the transfer of rights take place between a buyer and a seller of property located in the same planning districts.

Culver said he would like to see the program applied countywide. For example, developers with properties in Brandywine Hundred could double the number of new homes they could build in exchange for buying the development rights from farmers just north of Smyrna.

The idea is controversial. Culver said he expects people in the areas that would send development rights elsewhere to support the idea, but knows many in the areas that would receive the rights for highdensity projects will oppose it.

The concept would require approval of the Legislature and is buried in a draft of the county’s 2012 Comprehensive Development Plan. Details about it, however, are absent.

Culver said the idea fits into the goals of the comprehensive plan, which is the county’s blueprint for growth over the next decade.

“We would be putting the growth where we want it to occur, not sprawled out the way we’ve had it for the last 10 years,” he said. 

Updated plan 

The desire to expand the development rights program is in line with the proposed updates to the comprehensive plan, which says that 60 percent of the growth in the county in the next 10 years will take place north of the Chesa-peake & Delaware Canal. Making the transfer of development rights program countywide would facilitate that, Culver said. The County Council is scheduled to vote on the plan soon. The Land Use Department recommended council approval last month. The Planning Board, by a 5-2 vote, recommended approval as well. Much of the growth is expected to occur along the U.S. 40, Limestone Road and Old Baltimore Pike corridors, Culver said. The county would prefer growth to continue there because more infrastructure exists in that area.

The comprehensive plan updates call for a new agriculture zoning designation as well, which Culver said would help make a new transfer of development rights program more successful. Most farms currently have some sort of suburban zoning designation.

Culver would also like to change the formula to make the transactions more lu-crative for the buyers and sellers.

“The result would be that more farmland would be preserved and used as working farms,” Culver said. “And the buyers could double their density in areas where there is already working infrastructure – which would work well.” 

Mixed reactions 

Not surprisingly, reaction was positive south of the canal and and negative north of the canal. County Councilman William Powers, who operates a family farm in Townsend, said he called for a similar expansion four years ago, but realized it wouldn’t pass in the Legislature.

“I’m a total advocate for transfer of development rights,” Powers said. “We should get rid of Workforce Housing, where we just give density bonuses away, and replace it with a big TDR program. “People can buy density bonuses to build houses and make money, and we can preserve farms at the same time,” he said. Chuck Mulholland, president of the Civic League of New Castle County and Southern New Castle County Alliance, agrees with Powers. “Any move to concentrate new growth where infrastructure already exists is the way to go,” Mulholland said. “The state and the taxpayers can’t keep paying for new roads, sewers and schools. Using what’s already there is the best move.” Tom Dewson of Greenville is against the idea. He is a member of the Save Our County group that has sued the county for approving a 1.6 millionsquare- foot development planned at the Barley Mill Plaza office complex. “I have a great deal of concern about increased density in northern New Castle County, given the very disappointing experience the community has had with development proposals in the last year or so.” 
 
County Councilman Bob Weiner, a Brandywine Hundred resident, said the pro-posed program expansion makes sense because successful TDR programs across the country have large quantities of farms to sell the development rights and a larger pool of builders to buy them.

He also thinks there is merit to the current system of requiring that open space created from the sale of development rights be located near the project that resulted from it. “People who live in or near the density should be able to enjoy the open-space trade-off,” Weiner said. “Any change that would remove that should have a very broad public discussion with communities across the state, particularly with those in the proposed higher- density zones.” 

Similar programs 

Delaware’s Planning Coordinator Connie Holland said transfer of development rights programs have worked well in Middletown and Kent County. “I think expanding it in New Castle County is a real positive idea,” Holland said. There is no such program in Sussex County, county spokesman Chip Guy said. The state has a Purchase of Development Rights program. About 654 farms and forest areas totaling more than 101,000 acres have been permanently pre-served since 1996. Landowners have received about $180 million for the development rights and easements. Montgomery County, Md., has had a successful transfer of development rights program since 1981. About 51,000 acres of farmland has been preserved under the program since then. Not all of the development rights have been purchased, however. As is the case in Delaware, the demand to sell the rights has exceeded the supply of developers to purchase them. Jeremy Criss, Montgomery County’s agricultural services manager, said Howard County in Maryland has a less successful program that is similar to the current one in New Castle County. It requires the buyers of development rights to be located near the sellers’ properties. “It’s very restrictive and it just moves the density around a little bit,” he said. “At the end of the day, I conclude that very little farmland gets protected under that kind of model.” Allowing the countywide swaps is the way to go, Criss said. That increases the demand pool of developers, but doesn’t guarantee success. “Our program takes the development out of where we don’t want it and moves it to where we have public water, sewer, roads and schools,” Criss said. “But it still doesn’t address the concerns from communities and residents that arise from having additional density in their neighborhoods.” 

Contact Adam Taylor at 324-2787 or ataylor@delawareonline.com.

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