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Additional Thoughts for NCC Comprehensive Plan Revisions: an essay by Bob Weiner  
In New Castle County, the involvement level by civic associations and civic umbrella groups is institutionalized. Although lacking home rule or the ability to seek certain kinds of grants (snow removal reimbursement and county community governing grants being exceptions to the rule), the civic associations and civic umbrella groups meet monthly with the County Executive as a sort of "kitchen cabinet". This formal interaction was established at my suggestion upon my election in 1996. In part due to the lobbying power and involvement of the civic community, the New Castle County Unified Development Code (NCC UDC) was enacted over the opposition of some elements of the business community.

However, some elements of the civic community do not share the vision of the entire scope of the New Castle County Comprehensive Plan and have heretofore prevented necessary revisions to the NCC UDC in order to meet the objectives of our Comprehensive Plan. (e.g. testimony by some citizens before the County Planning Board opposing removal of the current 3.319 procedure indicated opposition to townhouses in southern New Castle County since the "wrong kind of people" would live in those townhouses.) These objectives include: (1) mixing of land uses to create a better sense of place within one's community; (2) encouraging more compact building and lot design as an alternative to conventional land consumptive development; (3) providing a range of housing opportunities an choices for people of all income levels; (4) creating walkable integrated neighborhoods where one can live, shop, work, play, pray and school our children without requiring the use of a single occupancy vehicle; (5) encouraging community design which incorporates both the natural and man-made environment to create unique and interesting neighborhoods; (6) preserving open space for important community space, habitat for plants and animals, recreational activities, and for critical environmental areas; (7) directing development towards existing areas already served or planned to be served by infrastructure; (8) providing for a variety of transportation choices including pedestrian, bike, transit and road facilities; (9) providing development regulations that are predictable, fair and cost effective; and (10) creating an atmosphere that encourages citizen participation and values those opinions.

The genesis of community empowerment in New Castle County can be traced to the State's divergent treatment of New Castle County in contrast to its treatment of Kent and Sussex Counties. Whereas the State mandated that each New Castle County subdivision be responsible for its own snow removal, the State or the towns provide this service to subdivisions in Kent and Sussex County to a much greater degree than in New Castle County. Residents in New Castle County suburban subdivisions were therefore compelled to organize, in the post World War II suburban sprawl period of the 1950's, for the singular purpose of collecting money to contract for snow removal. Once organized, these civic associations began to function as "quasi-community governments" and watchdog groups. The first suburban platted communities in New Castle County were in Brandywine Hundred and so it was not surprising that the first civic umbrella group, the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred (CCOBH) was established in Brandywine Hundred in the 1950's. Other civic umbrella groups in New Castle County, modeled after CCOBH were established in the years since, such as the Kennett Pike Association (KPA) and the Civic League for New Castle County. Similar civic leadership never developed in Kent and Sussex County to the extent it developed in New Castle County because of this dissimilarity of treatment by the State of Delaware. During the past 10 years some towns (as did the counties) made imprudent decisions permitting poorly planned suburban sprawl within the town limits.

Additionally, in the 1970's the DE State Fire Commission was established in its current form empowering 7 autonomous commissioners to promulgate and interpret state fire code regulations which have not been updated and which regulations have de facto have effectively "outlawed" the expansion of existing villages and towns and prevented the establishment of new villages and towns since the 1970's. There is an effort underway to provide the State Fire Commission with information which will allow the Commissioners to better understand that village building requires the State Fire Commission's willingness to permit narrower streets with on street parking which can be serviced with alternative smaller sized fire vehicles. Without on street parking and narrower pedestrian friendly village streets, new villages and towns cannot be established and older villages and towns cannot expand. Villages and towns elsewhere have permitted narrower streets with on street parking and have not burned to the ground. Statistical analysis has shown that jurisdictions that have adopted more progressive fire codes are not subject to greater harm from fire. However, jurisdictions which have adopted fire codes that facilitate on street parking, narrower streets other business & pedestrian friendly modifications have proven to be statistically safer for pedestrians.

The State of Delaware must be willing to exercise its authority over local government to assure that the State Comprehensive Development Plan is not overridden by local decision-making. Villages and towns can be semi-autonomous so long as the State assures that growth is consistent with the principles of "Livable Delaware". The State has been unable to muster the political will to implement the principles of Livable Delaware to the extent necessary to effectuate the principles of Smart Growth. All 3 counties have also lacked the requisite political will, to differing degrees.

In New Castle County a new model has emerged due to the adoption of the "Hometown Overlay" Ordinance which I spearheaded four years ago. The overlay zone permits semi-autonomous decision making based upon a set of community endorsed design guidelines. The guidelines also operate to create an "economic incentive zone" where approvals are fast-tracked and flexibility in design changes can take place more readily. The Hometown Overlay Zone can also be combined with an incorporated not for profit development corporation entity that can facilitate the application and receipt of government grants. Thus the Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation, in concert with the monthly meetings of the Claymont Community Coalition, Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee (the local planning board tasked with monitoring all land use applications for consistency with the local design guidelines), Claymont Historical Society, Claymont Business Owners Association, and other groups ensure the benefits of local government without the downside of the cost of paying for another level of government or the downside of creating a town government that is permitted to end-run the requirements of the State and County's Comprehensive Plans.

The "Claymont Renaissance" idealized build out plan took 5 years to germinate and culminated in September 2005 in the weeklong charrette under the guidance of the Torti Gallas Group, the leading traditional neighborhood design firm in the country. This successful public private partnership developed strong community trust and support amongst the 500 citizens who chose to become stakeholders and participants. The partnership includes New Castle County, the State of Delaware, county, state and federal elected officials, citizens and the business community. The partnership has now been strengthened by the addition of a key developer: the Commonwealth/Setting Group. There is a strong understanding by stakeholders of the critical need for citizens to take responsibility for their community while at the same time working collaboratively within the principles and guidelines of the State and County Comprehensive Plans. Thus, the mechanism of the Hometown Overlay Zone is coupled with oversight by the State and County to assure consistency with the Comprehensive Plans of both jurisdictions.

Democracy is inefficient but it is better than all other alternatives, to paraphrase the oft-quoted observation. The formation and growth of villages and towns should be encouraged but must be tempered with regional comprehensive planning and oversight. We need to find ways to assure that decision making by fragmented towns and villages does not destroy the ability of the larger community to effectively function. For example, decisions by Middletown to permit substandard housing and suburban sprawl patterns of development have had far reaching deleterious consequences that extend well beyond the town limits. Towns and villages ought not be be able to circumvent regional transportation strategies by imprudent and shortsighted land use decisions. Towns and villages need to be required to plan in close cooperation with County and State governments which ultimately have much of the responsibility of underwriting the cost of the infrastructure both within and outside the town limits.

I thank you for taking the time to consider my additional thoughts.

Best wishes.

Bob Weiner

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M E M O R A N D U M,

From: Neal I Payton, AIA, Torti Gallas and Partners, Inc.

Date: August 12, 2005

Re: Conflicts between Delaware State Fire Prevention Regulations and Livable Delaware

Problem:

Current interpretations of Delaware regulations covering creation of Fire lanes, make it effectively, impossible to create a traditional “Main Street” with parking (diagonal or parallel), as illustrated in the Livable Delaware booklet. Furthermore, these interpretations make it equally impossible to create secondary streets with parking on one or both sides in front of residential buildings. This is not merely an “aesthetic” problem, but one that will prevent the revitalization and redevelopment of many older areas of Delaware into vibrant mixed-use town centers. The conflict grows out of the interpretation that statewide requirements for primary fire lanes (24’ clear) allowing for no parking in front of all primary entrances to buildings over 10,000 sf. are relevant to new town center developments. Not only is the prohibition of parking at issue, but the width of these fire lanes is excessive and encourages speeding.

Proposed Solutions:

1). Chapter 1-2 Required Access For Fire Apparatus And Fire Department states:

1-2.1 All premises which the fire department may be called upon to protect in case of fire and which are not readily accessible from public roads [emphasis mine] shall provided with suitable gates, access roads, and fire lanes so that all buildings on the premises are accessible to fire apparatus.

One would reasonably infer from this paragraph that where premises are accessible from public roads, the provision for fire lanes is not required. However in two recent planning proposals in the state (one in Sussex County and one in New Castle County) this option and/or interpretation was not provided, therefore, revise as per the following “...which are not readily accessible from existing or new public roads…

2) Add a boxed discussion A-1-2.1 stating explicitly that premises that are served by public roads whether new or existing, shall not be subject to the provision for fire lanes. This explanation should remove the apparent ambiguity that exists within the regulations.

3) On private roadways, allow sprinkled buildings to have one primary and one secondary fire lane, (even where the building is determined to have more than one primary entrances) with the secondary fire lane corresponding to the front street and the primary fire lane to be along the other primary entrance. According the regulations, secondary fire lanes can be a minimum of 16’ in width and one row of parking is permitted between a secondary fire lane and the building (Par 5-4.7). This would seem to be how existing streets are treated at present and would satisfy the vision of Livable Delaware.

Discussion:

The fire lane regulations in question come from the Delaware State Fire Prevention Regulations Part V, Chapter 1: General Fire Safety Requirements, and Chapter 5: Standard For The Marking, Identification, And Accessibility Of Fire Lanes, Exits ,Fire Hydrants, Sprinkler, And Standpipe Connections.

A “fire lane,” as defined in the code, “provides unobstructed access to a building for Fire Department apparatus and any other emergency vehicles at all times.

Primary fire lanes are defined as being 24’ in width and “no parking shall be permitted between a primary fire lane and the building.” Most importantly, paragraph 5-5.1 spells out the location of fire lanes,

“Primary fire lanes shall be required to run along the ‘front of the building’ [emphasis mine] as determined by the primary entrance/exit, windows, balconies, etc. In cases where there is more than one primary entrance/exit, each shall be served by a primary fire lane even if this exceeds the accessibility percentage as required in Table 5-7.”

On traditional “Main Streets,” one is likely to find the bulk of available parking in the rear with parallel or diagonal parking on the street considered to be “teaser parking,” minimal, short term parking that allows for the viability of businesses requiring in and out convenience (e.g., dry cleaners, video rental, coffee, etc.). In such environment one might find to find two entrances to some of the larger stores, one on the parking side and one on the street side, or might find entrances to offices and/or residences above from the back and retail from the front. The multifaceted aspect of these building renders them as having two primary entrances according Paragraph 5-5.1 Corner buildings could have even more.

Torti Gallas and Partners has been involved with two recent Delaware planning charrettes, involving mixed-use town centers, (one in Sussex County and the other in New Castle County) and in both cases, representatives of the Delaware State Fire Marshal’s office have attended meetings in which the requirement for primary fire lanes was called out with a clear indication that anything less than a primary fire lane in front of all retail and residential building over 10,000 square feet would be unacceptable.

When asked, how can new buildings on existing streets be allowed parking in front of them, for example in downtown Wilmington, Dover, Lewes or Rehoboth Beach? The response in both cases was that prohibitions in front of “Main Street” oriented buildings apply to new buildings on new streets, only. Thus, a new building on an existing street would not necessitate the removal of parking in the front.

Yet there’s nowhere in the regulations where this is clearly spelled out. The code does differentiate between new and existing buildings (Par 5-1.3.5 and 5-1.3.6), but not new and existing streets. This is an interpretation of the regulation, and not a literal reading of the regulation. The interpretation of the code in this way assumes that either:

a) New buildings will be surrounded by parking lots (as in the typical suburban commercial development), or that

b) Where new structures are arranged so as to create town centers, all roadways are private; and/or that

c) In Paragraph 1-2.1 where the regulations state: “are not readily accessible from public roads” that the word “existing” is implied in front of the words public road.

A further note, the requirement for 24’ clear on all primary fire lanes (in new communities, that would be all streets on which there are fronting multi-family buildings over 10,000 square feet) encourages excess speed such that the same Delaware State Fire Regulations actually permit speed bumps (to reduce vehicle speed.” (Par 5-4.6)

Note:

It is possible that upon further discussion on this issue, it will be argued that no change is necessary, as the Fire Marshal always has the ability to use his/her discretion in modifying the requirements of this section as per the paragraphs below:

5-1.3.4* Where, in the opinion of the State Fire Marshal, an occupancy’s fire protection features are such that fire lanes do not contribute to the overall level of life safety and/or property conservation, the State Fire Marshal may modify the requirements of this Chapter. Such occupancies shall be identified on a case by case basis and listed by the State Fire Marshal.

A-5-1.3.4 The intent of this section is to allow the State Fire Marshal, on a case by case basis, to modify the fire lane requirements based on the occupancy’s site configuration, building size and construction, occupancy classification, and internal features of fire protection, such as fire alarm signaling and fire suppression systems.

However, in the two separate instances in meetings with the State Fire Marshal’s office, referenced above it was stated that absolutely nothing could be done about these regulations and that even if the Fire Marshal agreed with the arguments being put forward regarding the necessity for parking along Main Street, there was nothing to be done, as the regulations were quite clear. Yet, as clear as the regulations are, no one offered the observation that if the streets were public the fire lane requirement would not be applicable

Furthermore, in both cases cited above, no indication was given that such discretion on the part of the State Fire Marshal was even possible, let alone, likely. Hence, one could conclude that these paragraphs are inadequate to the task.

In both cases, the Fire Marshal’s representative argued that relief from the fire lane provision could be found in with Table 5-7 which provides for percentages of perimeter accessibility. Note 3 of Table 5-7 provides for a 50% reduction in perimeter accessibility requirements for most building types to from 100% to 50% for the densest structures (i.e., multi-family over 50’ in height and businesses over 26’ in height) However, as one reads this, provision it provides no relief from the Fire Lane requirement (with the exception of 5-1.3.4 - see discussion of this below).

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SmartCode Implementation

MANDATORY

Parallel Ordinance – SmartCode exists as an option that can be applied to any lands slated for annexation (n/a for New Castle County).

Hybrid Ordinance – Under this scenario, the requirements of UDC Zones are rolled into the SmartCode document as Special Districts. SmartCode is mandatory, with UDC Zones preserved as Special Districts. As special districts, the County may choose to roll-up zones that can more properly be expressed as Transect Zones.

OPTIONAL

Floating (Overlay) Zone – Under this scenario, a Sector Scale Plan recommends the location of SmartCode communities, with SmartCode replacing the underlying UDC Zoning once a Community-Scale plan is approved. Under this scenario, SmartCode becomes mandatory only for those areas that the developer/ applicant has chosen, but reverts to the previous zone should the applicant bail out of the project.

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Latest News:
4/21/2017
  A low-lying, flood prone portion of Talley Day Park in Brandywine Hundred to become a wetland
4/7/2017
  Plan to develop Brandywine Country Club development plan sets stage for rezoning debate - News Journal
3/29/2017
  Brandywine Country Club development plan returns
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