10/19/2012 - Councilman Weiner's Proposed Comments on Standards & Regulations for Subdivision Streets & State Highway Access
October 19, 2012
Mr. T. William Brockenbrough
County Coordinator, Development Coordination
Division of Planning
Delaware Department of Transportation
800 Bay Road
Dover, DE 19903
RE: Comments of New Castle County Councilman Robert W. Weiner on Amendments to Standards and Regulations for Subdivision Streets and State Highway Access
Dear Mr. Brockenbrough:
I am the New Castle County Councilperson for the 2nd District. As you know, I have been actively involved in transportation planning issues over the 16 years during which I have served, working to protect my constituents’ quality of life. I have dedicated myself to plan for a built environment needed to serve the demand for housing, education and health care, as well as to foster a healthy economic environment. As such, I welcome the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed Amendments to Standards and Regulations for Subdivision Streets and State Highway Access (the “Regulations”).
I support expanding the use of Transportation Improvement Districts (TID’s) and better defining their requirements as presented in the Regulations. I believe that the current system has failed citizens by allowing developers and their paid consultants to perform too many of the studies as to communities’ transportation needs. TID’s, as reimagined by the Regulations, will place that responsibility more squarely in the hands of the State, where it should have been all along.
It further appears that the TID’s will result in more aggressive transportation improvement costs being passed on to developers by using models based on future demographic projections, instead of merely relying on plans that have been actually approved or built out in the relevant area. By creating a realistic picture of future transportation needs, TID’s could go far to end the “Band-Aid” approach whereby the developers are naturally motivated to produce findings indicating that only a minimum in transportation improvements need be demonstrated to get a development approved.
My support for TID’s and the proposed Regulations generally is predicated on the provision allowing the community to have input into the scope of each TID, as well as the appropriate level or levels of service (LOS) within each such TID. Again, I believe that LOS is an issue where the public has been largely voiceless in the past.
I ask that historic and scenic byways, such as those in my district, be considered a “physical restraint on road widening” under section 188.8.131.52. I do not consider it appropriate to widen such roads to accommodate additional projected traffic. Rather solutions should be considered to divert out of state commuters from such roads.
I also ask that the agency involve me directly in any discussions regarding any TID proposed in my district, by inclusion in any Memorandum of Agreement between the agency and the County or otherwise.
I have carefully studied some of the comments submitted by other stakeholders. The agency must understand that some of the concerns are being raised in the context of anger and disappointment over the failure of the current system to function properly when large, controversial projects were approved. However, I understand from experience, that some of the larger transportation improvements needed in certain areas cannot, and never will be, funded by any one developer; so there needs to be a functional system to allow planning and funding for such improvements over a period of time by many developers.
I am also cautious about moving to a model followed elsewhere allowing the State government to usurp local zoning decision-making by designating certain projects as having a “regional impact.” I do not think it would benefit the community to effectively remove overall development approval authority from the hands of local governments in the way those systems contemplate, as Kent and Sussex Counties have very different development concurrency challenges than does New Castle County.
Finally, one area of intense public controversy has been how to treat redevelopment projects from a traffic impact prospective. I am pleased that the Regulations incorporate some of the concepts I had included in my proposed amendment to New Castle County’s Unified Development Code on the subject. Redevelopment projects that have already been “booked” into planned transportation improvements should certainly receive favorable treatment if they in fact utilize existing infrastructure and save green fields.
However, if a “redevelopment” project proposes substantial increases in peak hour trips over what has been planned for, as per a previously approved plan or constructed buildings, then the Regulations as implemented should require concurrent traffic improvements to account for the increase.
Again, I believe the public in the past has been very disappointed by the treatment of un-contemplated traffic increases associated with redevelopment projects.
I look forward to working with the Delaware Department of Transportation and you to make transportation planning and implementation more accountable to my constituents as these Regulations are implemented. Again, thank you for the opportunity to offer these comments.
Clark is going down the wrong path for redevelopment - News Journal
Aug. 26, 2011 | Comments Written by ROBERT WEINER www.delawareonline.com
Others have pointed out the specific errors in County Executive Paul Clark's July 26 opinion, "Redevelopment reduces sprawl and creates thousands of jobs."
I want to focus more on the Clark administration's generally misguided approach to redevelopment. Mr. Clark and I disagree about whether developers who increase density and traffic should pay impact fees or pay their fair share for necessary road improvements. We also disagree about whether the character of existing communities should be protected from new, incongruous developments with more density than the law normally allows.
Developers should get breaks from zoning laws and fees when they are solving a pre-existing problem in a community, such as blight or vacancy. Otherwise taxpayers are just subsidizing developers' businesses. These are just some of the redevelopment reform provisions I would have preferred to have seen enacted, but which Mr. Clark's administration refused to draft into the recently passed redevelopment legislation.
Mr. Clark points to job creation and avoiding development of greenfields as justification for redevelopment as he envisions it. However, jobs alone do not directly result in upgrades to already strained road intersections; they just add more traffic congestion. When traffic problems degrade a community's quality of life, eventually some of the "customers" the jobs serve opt to move elsewhere. We are then left with yet another vacant shopping center.
The only factor that should justify giving a developer a pass on paying for a fair share of road improvements is when major roadway improvements are simply not needed. In a true "redevelopment" project, this is the case, because something was already constructed on the site that has become obsolete. If the "redeveloped" use generates similar peak-hour trips , then roadway planning at the state level likely already accounted for that traffic. Two projects demonstrate the folly of continuing to avoid the reforms I advocate.
Governor's Square III was accepted by Mr. Clark's administration and processed as a redevelopment plan through the first public hearing. Nothing but a small bank had been constructed on the site. The property was in fact one of those "greenfields" Mr. Clark claimed in his July 26 editorial to care about saving. Once citizen activists forced the developer to perform a traffic impact study, it was revealed that expensive improvements are in fact needed to keep the intersection functioning. Had the project stayed a "redevelopment," the developer would not have had to pay for any of those upgrades. This was a near miss for taxpayers. My rejected proposal to preclude "redevelopment" of open spaces and also, to always require a traffic impact study for redevelopments that propose rezonings, like Governors Square III, would better prevent a future fiasco like that one.
Unbelievably, Mr. Clark's reforms also do not prevent another Barley Mill Plaza redevelopment plan, which plan has been granted redevelopment status in the absence of any blight or vacancy. Barley Mill Plaza should not be afforded special redevelopment status, which removes traffic studies and requisite traffic improvements as a precondition to rezoning approval by New Castle County Council. Does anyone think that but for the redevelopment breaks, this shopping center would instead be built on some alternate imaginary "green field" elsewhere? Location plays too major a role in the developer's plans for that to be true.
The recent redevelopment law that council passed backed off Clark's originally proposed extension of "paper redevelopment" to expired plans that had never been built. Thank goodness. However, the taxpayer still shoulders too many burdens for "redevelopment" projects which cause traffic gridlock without at least saving a community from blight or vacancy.
Do we public servants work for the communities near these projects or for national big-box stores looking to pay lower rent because their landlord got away without accounting for traffic increases? How can Mr. Clark say his policies resulted in successful projects when we have no way of knowing whether redevelopment incentives have made those projects possible at all, or rather merely more profitable for the developer at taxpayer expense?
Mr. Clark's statement is problematic: "The county will continue to explore ways in which we can incentivize developers to modernize plans that have not yet been built." Maybe such plans would never have been built anyway because the developer misjudged the market for the proposed use. Maybe such a plan was badly designed. It is not the community's duty to underwrite a poorly conceived development plan. I expect Mr. Clark and I will have to agree to disagree on the proper scope of redevelopment as a useful economic tool.
Councilman Robert Weiner represents New Castle County's Second District.
7/26/2011 - Here is Councilman Bob Weiner’s testimony from the July 26, 2011 County Council meeting [with power point slides] which provides greater detail about his concerns. Councilman Weiner also prepared the attached comparison chart that provides a succinct summary of the of the merits of each Redevelopment proposal.
7/19/2011 - Councilman Bob Weiner Land Use Committee Submission
From the Desk of Robert Weiner, New Castle County Council 2nd District
Date: July 19, 2011
RE: Land Use Committee
Redevelopment Policy Considerations
We have been treated to a political spectacle over the last months with competing ordinances to change redevelopment in New Castle County. The tactics used by the executive branch to prevent a serious discussion of the competing measures has been disheartening, but the truth is that my goal was always to make sure that the measure that eventually passes actually did reform redevelopment in certain key ways. If the right substance is there I can assure you I do not care whose name is listed as the “sponsor.” Therefore, I ask my fellow Council members to focus on some key policy areas so our preferences can be made clear, and an ordinance that actually implements our wishes is adopted. As a constructive part of that process, I have the following comments on 11-020, Sub. 2, and hope that you will agree that this is not what we or our constituents have in mind when it comes to redevelopment reform.
My concerns regarding the County’s law and implementation of redevelopment policy revolve around the following issues: applicability to properties with unique development challenges relating to the present condition of the property itself which negatively impact the community; actual availability of existing infrastructure to support the redeveloped use; and a fair, transparent process for designating and reviewing plans for such sites. I introduced my own proposed ordinance to revise Article 8 of the UDC regarding redevelopment, Ordinance 11-026, now Substitute 2 (the “Reform Amendment”), because I did not feel that the Reda/Tackett amendment (the “Reda Amendment”) addressed these issues in a way I could support in its previous form. I attach a chart explaining the differences between current law, the Reform Amendment, and both versions of the Reda Amendment. Substitute 1 of the Reda Amendment is an improvement over the ordinance as introduced, but I believe the following specific things would need to be changed to allay my concerns:
Applicability: The Reform Amendment allows no paper redevelopment, no redevelopment of green fields or farms, and redevelopment only where it is needed and infrastructure can handle it. The Reda Amendment still allows substantially vacant lands to be “redeveloped” because it gives a credit for “legally established square footage”, which a grandfathered plan may show, but that alone should not qualify a plan as a redevelopment.
Council previously wisely undertook to protect existing communities against the blight of abandoned or severely declining properties by creating incentives to encourage redevelopment. These incentives include exemption from impact fees, possible waiver of traffic impact study, and relaxation of code requirements.
- The cost to the public of granting these incentives makes sense when carefully and sparingly applied to protect the community against blight to such sites as Tri-State Mall or Merchandise Mart. This special treatment makes no sense when applied to property that is not threatening to drag down adjoining property values. The Reda Amendment in general simply favors redevelopment status for properties with approved plans, and as introduced extended redevelopment treatment to unbuilt plans that had sunsetted. That is a major policy difference when compared to the Reform Amendment.
- A “redevelopment” should not be accepted as such when it proposes a different use than what was approved, and a density bonus of 50,000 GFA. If the infrastructure will not support the change in use, the redevelopment will harm, rather than help, adjoining communities.
- The current law is that after 5 years, an approved but unbuilt plan sunsets, or is no longer effective for obtaining permits. A plan can avoid “sunsetting” if a developer builds part of it, sometimes a very small part. That means that sometimes, way down the road, a plan gets built out where that building could probably not be approved under current law, so it is effectively new construction that is non-conforming. The current law on redevelopment has been abused to allow not only the build out of these non-sunsetted plans, but a change of use, additional density of 50,000 GFA without going through the major land development process, no impact fees, and often no traffic improvements. I want to reform this process by continuing to direct development to already developed areas with infrastructure, but avoiding some of the unintended strains on local roads, lack of public input in the process and development incentives for developing green fields.
- The Reform Amendment completely revamps the definition of “redevelopment” to carry out Council’s original intentions and remove ambiguities that have led to abuses in granting redevelopment status. Redevelopment status may apply to brownfields, blighted properties, extractive use sites, and previously developed structures that need help the market is not providing so they do not become a detriment to the community, not to just make development more profitable in general by waiving impact fees and allowing developers to skip traffic studies and needed improvements.
- The July 5, 2011 Land Use Department “Comparison” chart (“LU Comparison”) states in error that this will encourage demolition by neglect and attacks the proposed definition of “blight” as being vague. However, this ignores the broader application of the proposed new definition of Redevelopment in the Reform Amendment to “previous developed structures that are now . . . underutilized . . . where the private market is not providing significant economic activity to achieve the desired level of improvement.” The County could grant redevelopment status to a project designed to reconfigure a previously constructed shopping center, for example, to accommodate national retailers’ modern criteria for leased space applying the Reform Amendment. The definition is meant for the application of reasonable discretion by the Department of Land Use, with the public getting the opportunity for greater input as described below. The Land Use Comparison acknowledges that the Substitute Reda Amendment does not attempt to address this issue.
- The Substitute Reda Amendment proposes striking the words “or was approved for the site” from the “Applicability” section of the current law. That is a step in the right direction on the issue of not expanding paper redevelopment, but still allows a grandfathered plan with minimal constructed GFA to be essentially afforded “paper redevelopment” status. At least now, the plan has to be properly grandfathered, but if it is the developer gets credit for all the gross floor area (“GFA”) on a plan recorded 100 years ago plus 50,000 additional GFA and still can be treated as a minor plan with no benefit to the community through the mitigation of blight or vacancy. The Reform Amendment does not change the developer’s right to built a grandfathered plan, but to get the breaks of a redevelopment the developer must show a problem with the site itself (blighted, obsolete, polluted, vacant) or the constructed structures (obsolete, unmarketable, existing non-conformities), not just that the developer got a paper approval for a use or structures for which there is no current market.
- The Substitute Reda Amendment does not fix the big problem with interpretation of the current “Applicability” section of the Code. The plain language of the current redevelopment ordinance requires demolition of at least 50% of the old buildings on a property. The word “demolished” does not mean “never constructed.” A building which has never been constructed is not the same concept as a building which has been demolished. Unfortunately, in practice the plain meaning of the current law has been ignored and plans proposing no demolition, such as Governor’s Square, have been accepted and processed as redevelopment plans. I remain concerned that will continue to be the case under current law or with the adoption of the Substitute Reda Amendment.
- The Substitute Reda Amendment still allows “redevelopment” of 100% vacant land, with the incorrect interpretation of the current law that no demolition of existing buildings is required to continue to be applied. This is “an end run” around a proper major plan submission and plan sunsetting. Again, for example, Governor’s Square III is a major project so it should follow the normal plan processing rules and not get special treatment just because a small portion of a plan was built in the past. Now the developer seeks a complete change of use with increased peak hour trips. The plan got all the way through the Planning Board with the Department of Land Use’s support as a “redevelopment,” when really it proposed major new development on vacant land.
- Credit for a portion of unbuilt GFA may be acceptable where no change of use is proposed and the old plan was in fact substantially constructed, and the Reform Amendment provides that while insisting that new development be within the footprints of older developments or contiguous to it to protect as much open space as possible. Open space rarely contains non-conforming uses or situations and the County does not need to provide incentives to develop it beyond existing in-fill bonuses.
- The Land Use Comparison states on page 1 that “other options” are still being explored regarding paper redevelopment. Council should not act on the Reda Amendment if this issue is still not adequately addressed, or another round of amendments will be coming from the Department in the future.
Concurrency: Redeveloped sites must have existing adequate infrastructure, roads particularly. The Reform Amendment still allows breaks on infrastructure improvements for redevelopment plans where the developer will not be putting new strains on the system. The Reda Amendment effectively waives traffic study requirements and infrastructure improvement requirements.
- Traffic improvements must be required when there are substantially increased burdens on existing roads and intersections. If the state does not plan to invest in those improvements in the near term, the developer must. Redevelopment policy cannot ignore this core principle.
- A redevelopment will more likely achieve transportation concurrency when the designation only applies to existing, already constructed structures. Relaxed traffic improvement requirements and study standards should only apply if the same or a less intensive future use is proposed from a traffic standpoint, to avoid a disastrous additional, unfunded strain on limited infrastructure. The Reda Amendment ignores this principle by allowing credit for unbuilt GFA combined with changes in use even with no studies or concurrency requirements.
- As it is under current law, light traffic analysis requirements related to “redevelopment” risks undermining concurrency standards. The Reda Amendment misleadingly states DelDOT can ask for a TIS, when in fact the Memorandum of Agreement between DelDOT and New Castle County (the “MOU”) does not subject redevelopment plans to TIS review. Therefore, DelDOT will never ask for a TIS for a redevelopment and this requirement is illusory. The Land Use Comparison states this is the same as current law, which is similarly flawed.
- Current law has caused substantial problems with redevelopment plans and traffic concurrency, with DelDOT denying a TIS waiver for one project, Governor’s Square III, that almost got through the entire system as a redevelopment. The TIS waiver denial said that the new project would cause enough traffic to mandate a flyover bridge at Routes 7 and 40, an improvement that would have been unfunded and unknown due to the flaws with current redevelopment law not requiring TIS studies when a change of use will occur.
- The PLUS review of the Reda Amendment on March 23, 2011 identified potential problems with traffic concurrency which the substitute does not correct.
- Despite the Delaware Department of Transportation's (“DelDOT”) decision to deny a Traffic Impact Study (“TIS”) Waiver for the Governor Square III project and the negative traffic impact DelDOT predicts in its TIS denial letter dated March 9, 2011, the Reda Amendment would allow this and similar projects to proceed anyway because it could potentially qualify as a minor redevelopment plan if the developer applied for that status (currently the developer is processing it as a major plan due to political pressure and fear the plan’s redevelopment status would be legally challenged by citizen activists because it proposes no demolition): DelDOT can’t ask for a TIS if it is a redevelopment, and the County will not. Similarly problematic proposals will also be approved, ultimately overwhelming DelDOT controlled roadways and thus placing unbudgeted, unanticipated and unplanned financial strain on state roadway infrastructure in New Castle County. Redevelopment status should be more limited to protect our State owned infrastructure.
- Outrage over application of the current law, which the Reda Amendment does not improve, has promoted introduction of H.B. 101-Sub 1 in Dover, which requires DelDOT to renegotiate the MOU, a TIS for virtually every plan and for all redevelopments. If we do not reform redevelopment, the State will take this out of our hands.
- The Department has the ability to request a TIS pursuant to the Reda Amendment, but the County does not have to pay for the traffic improvements needed when intersections fail or need not be improved, despite the increased traffic a redevelopment might bring. Dover is not going to let this abuse continue unchecked.
- The Reform Amendment allows a developer to forgo expensive traffic studies and improvements when the traffic that a redevelopment will bring has already been accounted for in infrastructure planning or will be less. Just to attract infill and development to built up areas, a legitimate redevelopment still gets to add up to 70,000 GFA and still be treated as a minor plan, which will indeed exempt it from a TIS. Even major plans remain exempt if they will have an equal amount or fewer peak hour trips than would have been the case under the previous approval. A plan can even still be a major development plan with density bonuses and exempt from impact fees, but under the Reform amendment it must improve surrounding intersections so that they function at least LOS D. Just because a plan qualifies for redevelopment status does not mean that traffic concurrency can be ignored when there will be increases in peak hour trips that infrastructure planning did not anticipate due to changes in use.
- The Reform Amendment has traffic concurrency “teeth” that does not rely on DelDOT or any external decision maker. If a TIS is required, the developer has to improve the 3 closest intersections to D or better. It does not matter if now or in the future the intersections would be allowed to operate at E or F by DelDOT. By effectively exempting even major redevelopment plans from a TIS, the Reda Amendment cannot implement even its weak objective requirement that “the proposed development may not cause . . . LOS to become E or F,” because without the TIS, no one will have any idea at what level those intersections are operating in the first place. PLUS pointed this out in their very harsh criticism of the Reda Amendment. Also, the relevant intersections are not defined, leading to more abuse in favor of select developments to the detriment of the public.
- The Land Use Comparison wrongly states that requiring the three closest intersections to operate at D or better will encourage sprawl. This comment ignores the fact that the intersection improvement requirement only kicks in on major plans where there will be a spike in peak hour trips, with plans adding up to 70,000 GFA beyond what any grandfathered plan already allows still qualifying as minor plans. That means an entire shopping center could be torn down 50% and rebuilt as a shopping center adding 69,000 GFA without having to do any intersection improvements or a study of the surrounding intersections. That is what Council intended when giving redevelopments traffic concurrency breaks in the first place.
Process: Designation of redevelopments must be consistent and fair
- The other "improvements" to a site the Reda Amendment requires of redevelopments, and whether the applicant has met the stated percentage requirement, would be at the Department’s discretion with no meaningful legislative or other State review.
- The Reda Amendment has no process for dealing with plans improperly accepted or processed as redevelopment plans, which has been problematic under the current law.
- Under current law and the Reda Amendment, there is NO public hearing or comment on redevelopment site plans unless they qualify as major plans, and many qualify as minor plans by using grandfathered floor area from old plans. This issue came up during the Planning Board hearing for the Governor’s Square rezoning and deed restriction change and the Board was told they have no right to review the plan at all for that reason. Thus there is no transparency or input from the public.
- The Reform Amendment merely requires a Planning Department hearing and recommendation on major plans only so there is public input and review on whether the plan does in fact qualify as a redevelopment plan.
- The Land Use Comparison states in error this would encourage sprawl, but the public has a right to be heard when it is giving up impact fees and allowing more density with these major plans.
Unintended Consequences. If the Reda Amendment is approved, it is possible that applicants will redesignate their plans as “redevelopment”, just to get these breaks. The Reda Amendment will likely be interpreted and used by the Department to permit applicants to apply for special treatment. Land Use’s recommendation on Governor’s Square III dated August 31, 2010 says, paraphrasing Dave Culver, “there have been other plans that were based on unbuilt square footage; this is not a unique application.” The public does not support this version of redevelopment, and the Reda Amendment does not end it.
"Non-conforming” not applicable. David Culver keeps referring to potential "redevelopment" sites as "non-conforming situations." A non-conforming situation, according to the UDC, is one where, "A building/structure or the use of a lot or building/structure [is] lawfully existing at the time this Chapter or a subsequent amendment to this Chapter became effective which does not conform to the dimensional and/or use requirements of the district in which it is located." A mere paper plan does not “lawfully exist”for the purpose of establishing entitlement to a legal non-conformity under the UDC. In fact, after a plan is recorded, if it is not built and 5 years pass, the same plan could not be re-approved, much less built if the requirements have changed. Even if the plan is built, such non-conforming uses or structures are not allowed to be re-built if they are abandoned after a casualty unless the rebuilding starts within 12 months, longer if it is a major casualty (greater than 50% destruction). 40.08.110 of the UDC even forbids changing from one non-conforming use to another. However, that's exactly what the Reda Amendment will continue to facilitate. Governor's Square was an office plan being "redeveloped" into retail. If the office had actually been built, become non-conforming under current law, and then been destroyed totally, after 10 years it could never be rebuilt and if it was only destroyed 49% or less, the owner would have only 12 months to rebuild. Under the Reda Amendment it could be rebuilt for the next 100 years regardless of changes in the law. The provision in the non-conforming uses section of Article 8 forbidding changes in use could be ignored. Redevelopment and non-conforming uses SHOULD both involve structures that have actually been built under prior law and have not lost their legal non-conforming status. Current law on redevelopment is supposed to take care of this by requiring a 50% demolition of existing structures but that restriction has been ignored. The Reda Amendment does nothing to address this ongoing abuse.
Additional Differences. The Reform Amendment prohibits “redevelopment” of agricultural lands and protects community character from “redevelopments” that are not in keeping with surrounding neighborhoods. The Reda Amendment does not address this issue, which is a real danger as new plans are filed in the future. Current redevelopment law does not mention agricultural lands. This ambiguity led to the litigation in the Stopyra case, which would not have been necessary if the law had been clear. That case did not say agricultural lands could never qualify for redevelopment status, and certainly many agricultural lands have non-conformities and environmental challenges. There is no reason to invite more litigation or gamble on the County’s future this way when we could just clarify the law.
5/24/2011 - Councilman Weiner responds to questions from the Leauge of Women Voters regarding his redevelopment ordinance.
In response to Tuesday March 8, 2011’s introduction of a new law to expand the use of “paper redevelopment” plans, Councilman Weiner plans to introduce a counter proposal at the March 22, 2011 County Council meeting. The Weiner proposal would curtail use of vacant green fields as acceptable “redevelopment” projects. Under current law, development projects accepted under the “redevelopment” process in New Castle County undergo a relaxed standard of review, pay no impact fees to the County, and need not conduct traffic impact studies to obtain approval. Explained Weiner, “Even under the present redevelopment ordinance, the Department of Land Use has not even made developers adhere to the requirement that at least a 50% demolition of existing structures has to take place to qualify as a redevelopment. Instead, green open fields are fair game for these relaxed standards. When I saw that the proposed revision allows any recorded, unbuilt plan to qualify as a redevelopment, not just those that earned grandfathering by building part of the recorded structures within 5 years, I felt that an incorrect view of the Unified Development Code was being ratified and expanded upon, so I decided to propose something different.”
Ordinance 11-020 and the Weiner proposal are very largely opposing visions of what “redevelopment” should be. “Green spaces, never before developed, should not get favorable treatment in the process,” proclaimed Weiner. “A blighted property is a different matter – that’s a drag on the community and giving a little on certain standards can help turn those properties around.” Weiner observed that the public should also have a say in major redevelopment plans, adding to the process a proposed Planning Board public hearing and certification requirement so the community gets a say in whether the plan meets the more stringent redevelopment criteria they propose. This would also allow the public to challenge plans improperly accepted for processing as redevelopments, which both say has been a problem with past project. Both also oppose relaxed traffic studies for major plans changing the use of redevelopment properties from what had been anticipated at original plan approval, and the lack of standards to improve failing intersections in both current law and competing ordinance 11-020.
Weiner criticized ordinance 11-020, introduced by Councilmen Reda for the County Land Use Department as being too similar to a redevelopment proposal previously introduced by Councilman Tim Sheldon. If adopted, Weiner says ordinance 11-020 would put the County's official stamp of approval on paper redevelopment, ending the dispute about whether it is allowed or not. Plus given the light traffic analysis requirements related to “redevelopment”, Weiner sees difficulties in figuring out at what level the intersections are really operating to apply the ordinance, which in theory is supposed to prevent intersections operating at Level D or below from becoming “worse”.
As for current redevelopment law, Weiner believe that developers and the County Land Use Department have twisted the language adopted by Council and accepted inappropriate plans for redevelopment such as Governor’s Square, which proposes new big boxes in a green field, and Barley Mill, which does not involve demolition of a blighted or non-economically viable structure. Weiner supports keeping the status quo and interpreting the current law correctly rather than adopting the Reda proposal, which like the Sheldon proposal, liberalizes the use of redevelopment in the guise of “clarifying” the UDC.
Opponents of both Barley Mill Plaza and Governor’s Square have based their opposition on their interpretation of current redevelopment law, claiming that the plain language of the redevelopment ordinance as previously enacted by County Council requires demolition of at least 50% of the old buildings on a property. The word “demolished” does not mean “never constructed,” in Weiner’s view, and the community strongly opposes that interpretation. A building which has never been constructed is not the same thing as a building that has been demolished. It’s that simple, they claim. Under fire for its “misuse” of redevelopment, the Governor’s Square developer resubmitted its plan as a Minor Land Development Plan, but if the property is rezoned as the developer has requested, and the redevelopment law is liberalized, there would be nothing to stop a resubmission of that plan under the new, more permissive law.
In enacting relief for developers doing “real” redevelopment, County Council intended to protect existing communities against the blight of abandoned or severely declining properties by creating incentives to encourage their redevelopment. These incentives include exemption from impact fees, possible waiver of traffic impact study, and relaxation of code requirements. The cost to the public of granting these incentives makes sense when applied to protect the community against blight, such as sites like Tri-State Mall or Merchandise Mart. This special treatment makes no sense when applied to property that is not threatening to drag down adjoining property values, and that if developed as proposed will harm rather than hurt adjoining communities.
Councilman Weiner stated, “I understand Councilman Sheldon’s concern given the controversy around paper redevelopment, but the real problem is accepting plans that don’t qualify under the law as it is, and Tim’s proposal (as well as the County Land Use Dept/Reda proposal) does nothing to address what is in the pipeline now. Also, I’d like to see the ability for a qualified redevelopment plan to get credit for its approved square footage preserved so long as it does not result in the loss of valuable resources. We just need better enforcement and direction from the County Department of Land Use.”
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