(County Executive signs controversial land use law removing
November 4, 2005
Through the educational opportunities afforded to me by the
National Association of Counties, Urban Land Institute and American
Planning Association, I have had the benefit of learning of best
practices community models across the country. Many citizens
are not familiar with the successful traditional neighborhood
design village model. One's comprehension is sometimes limited
by one's experiences.
For example, many may never have seen a 60,000 square foot grocery
store, medical facility or other super-sized store that is situated
in a village square but is disguised by small "liner stores" which
surround the large buildings and totally hide the loading dock.
Many may never have seen a modern village that looks and feels
like a pre-suburban sprawl (pre-WW II) village and yet functions
with modern-day stores in the center square.
Many may never have seen a modern village with a sacred protected
village edge which prevents external growth outside the village
limits in perpetuity. This is a strategy that many European villages
employ. Also, many American communities are employing these strategies.
We can also. This is a different growth culture than most Americans
have. Many still think in terms of a "wild west mentality".
They still think that we live in the wild west with unlimited
open space to ravage. Others yet think that we can simply say "no" to
future development and it will go some place else and be someone
else's problem. That latter thinking has gotten us in the "mess" that
we currently are experiencing. Our workforce is being forced
to live outside New Castle County because our growth management
strategies result in only $300,000 to $400,000 new housing to
be built in unincorporated southern New Castle County (for the
most part). Employment centers in northern New Castle County
can only be accessed by long commutes which exacerbates traffic
congestion and further worsens our air quality. The extra driving
time detracts from our quality of life and lessons the time that
we could chose to allocate for walking and other forms of exercise.
Obesity is an epidemic which is directly related to our sedentary
Growth is inevitable. As long as the right of procreation is
constitutionally protected, (tongue in cheek) we will have growth
and must plan for it. In New Castle County, we can continue to
accommodate growth in suburban sprawl patterns which disincentivize
other options. Or, we can take the time to learn about successful
growth management strategies that are completely foreign to us;
and yet, in many ways, very familiar to us at the same time.
For example, in New Castle County, if we adopt growth policies
that encourages growth in villages which are sited along the
(future) light railroad station stops and current Route 1 exits,
we would preserve an incredible amount of open space while at
the same time facilitating service by multiple forms of mass
transit. These villages can be connected by both roads and bike/ped
paths so that residents have options. There are actually places
like this that I have seen in this country and in Europe. We
could significantly shrink the growth zone and also substantially
reduce the cost of implementing infrastructure. If New Castle
County adopts a growth management strategy in southern New Castle
County which discourages sprawl and fosters transit oriented
development patterns, then we, as a county, will be creating
the necessary groundwork to encourage the State of Delaware to
adopt a policy in conformity to fund light rail service from
Wilmington to Dover and points south.
If we continue to build segregated housing projects that compel
us to drive long distances to segregated shopping and work locations,
then we will continue to exacerbate traffic congestion. But,
if we plan villages that integrate live work spaces together
harmoniously then some (not all) will have the option of living
where they work. Traditional zoning laws segregate residential
from office and commercial. Form-based zoning aesthetically,
attractively and seamlessly integrates where we live, shop, work,
play, pray and school our children.
Today's growth is spread out over large areas. It doesn't have
to be that way. Density can be attractive. Cape May, Annapolis,
New Hope and Manayunk attract us because it is mixed use, aesthetically
designed and pedestrian friendly. (Building such a village today
in New Castle County is currently illegal.) Density facilitates
all of this. Community generated Design guidelines coupled with
density can also facilitate work-force housing because density
provides the economic incentives to build seamless and attractive
integrated work-force housing that is affordable is totally indistinguishable
from its neighbors. I have seen this. It doesn't exist here now
but it could.
Suburban sprawl subdivisions isolate neighbor from neighbor.
The design does not foster democratic participation. Villages
bring neighbors together and foster participatory democracy.
New England town meetings and Arden town meetings have a common
thread. Participatory democracy thrives because of the community
design. When you walk on a village street where the homes are
closer together and closer to the front street with sidewalks
that people actually use, residents interact with other more.
They don't hide out on their back decks. They sit on their front
porches and speak with their neighbors as they walk by. Part
of the appeal of Cape May is its walkability and the front porches
where neighbors can sit and chat with each other and chat with
folks who walk by. There is a significant national population
shift trend away from the one hour commute from a suburban "McMansion" to
a city/town/village lifestyle. In New Castle County, we do not
foster that trend; but we could!
Not everyone will chose to live in a village, hamlet, town or
city. Some will chose to live in suburban sprawl. But we have
failed to give citizens a real choice. In New Castle County currently
there is really no choice for attractive new affordable work
force housing. The 3.319 procedure was successful in only one
regard: it virtually stopped cluster development with town house
components dead in its tracks. No project was ever disapproved
at a 3.319 hearing. But what the 3.319 hearing did was redirect
virtually every developer away from building environmentally
sensitive clustered development with mixed use housing for fear
of rejection at a 3.319 hearing. The 3.319 hearing only applied
to cluster development. The replacement public hearing applies
to EVERY plan and has been moved to the front of the decision-making
process, when it can make a real difference in the plan. There
still remains the County Council hearing to review and approve
every subdivision at the end of the process. Now the process
has created a level playing field. The level playing field is
exactly what the economic elitists and no-growth proponents did
not want. The blindly uninformed supporters of 3.319 just listened
to the economic elitists and no-growth proponents without taking
the time to figure it out on their own. Thankfully, the institutional
impediment of the 3.319 procedure has been removed by a courageous
majority of 7 County Council members who rejected the misjudgment
of a few vocal misguided and /or clueless citizens. But removing
3.319 was only the first step. Removing 3.319 will now allow
us to begin to create attractive communities with affordable
work force housing. Now we need to amend the UDC to facilitate
real density coupled with community-endorsed design guidelines.
This WILL NOT have any impact on existing suburban sprawl areas.
We have created suburban sprawl patterns in certain areas and
using a car is an absolute necessity. We can chose to create
pedestrian friendly villages as we expand to address anticipated
growth. However, we can also retrofit existing suburban sprawl
areas like Brandywine Hundred so that we are not ALWAYS hostages
to our single occupancy vehicles. We are in fact creating greenways,
bikeways, context sensitive design pathways facilitates options
that currently are not available to many of us in Brandywine
Hundred. I have championed greenways, bikeways, context sensitive
design pathways connecting the Brandywine River to the Delaware
River. This greenway, once completed, with other interconnecting
pathways will provide the option of those who chose to do so
to safely ride their bikes to Astra Zeneca and DuPont Company
work sites. I am also working with DELDOT to create pathways
along Grubb Road and Shipley Road, which are currently not safe
for pedestrians. Once we complete the Shipley Road pathway, residents
will have the option of safely biking to work in Wilmington,
via Washington Street Extension and via the Blue Ball Greenway.
Old solutions do not always address current challenges. Many
urged me to disapprove of the rezoning necessary to bring Astra
Zeneca to Brandywine Hundred. Instead, I worked with others to
fashion a new solution. Now, 40% of Astra Zeneca's workforce
do not utilize single occupancy vehicles during peak rush hours
because of my cutting edge legislation. This record of success
shows that we CAN do better. The "Level of Service Mitigation
and Monitoring Agreement" that I wrote and sponsored incentivizes
a modal shift of employees out of single occupancy vehicles traveling
during peak rush hour by employing an array of mitigation strategies:
ride sharing, telecommuting, staggered work hours, ride sharing
fairs and bike/ped alternatives. On-site facilities such as day
care, exercise facilities, postal services, food services and
other needed amenities provide employees with options which help
us to achieve traffic congestion management goals. Astra Zeneca's
successful employment of this strategy has enabled it to earn
a reputation as one of the best employers in the country. Despite
the addition of 5000 new employees into our local workforce,
there has been no degradation of roadway level of service along
the Concord Pike corridor. Old models do not always address today's
challenges. Using the old model, we would have simply told Astra
Zeneca to go away because our roadway system was already at peak
capacity. Some turning movements were already in failure.
We can't eliminate the use of single occupancy vehicles but
we also don't need to be hostages to them. By creating villages
where residents have the option of live, shop, work, play, pray
and school their children, we can begin to address the growth
management structural deficiencies that we have created since
World War II. (We also must keep emphasizing that its all about
having choices. The choice to live in a new traditional neighborhood
design community was made illegal in the early 1970's because
of two institutional impediments: the archaic State Fire Commission's
regulations and the County Land Use Codes. Both of these assumed
that only suburban sprawl would ever be built in the future.
See Torti Gallas Essay appended below.)
SmartCode: the Benefits of Compact Form
Provides a smaller ecological footprint in order to accommodate
everyday human needs.
Allows emphasis on location efficiency: pedestrian accommodation,
convenient access to everyday uses, and reduced VMT per capita.
Allows for a sustainable grid-network of streets to improve
internal circulation and traffic capture while dissuading external
through-traffic (sustainable infrastructure).
Provides for neighborhood centers that can support transit,
should it become available.
Reduces development demand elsewhere, and provides opportunities
for rural preservation or reservation through TDRs.
Provides a context for a walkable neighborhood school districts,
reducing the need for bussing.
Provides for neighborhood housing choice (and cradle to grave
I continue to champion new pedestrian links. We are building
a network throughout Brandywine Hundred, New Castle County and
the country. The East Coast Greenway is an "urban Appalachian
trail", running from Maine to Florida and is 80% complete.
It is master planned to run along Philadelphia Pike with a spur
along the Delaware River. This will interface with our local
greenways, pathways, sidewalks and walkways.
I have appended an article about County Executive Chris Coons'
rationale for signing the legislation removing the 3.319 procedure
from the UDC and some articles from www.bobweiner.com for your
reference. At the very bottom of this email chain, I have reprinted
my two earlier essays with links to learned articles. There are
some citizens who are willing to learn and others who feel that
they are know everything they need to know since they learned
it already. The solutions that made sense in the 1950's, 1960's
and 1970's are no longer relevant. Those who are not willing
to learn are destined to repeat the same mistakes in the future
unless the elected public servants become informed and chose
to champion sound land use growth management policies. Those
citizens who are observant and thoughtful will take some time
to study these alternative growth patterns.
Best wishes. Bob Weiner
News Journal 11/04/2005
Coons signs controversial land-use law
New Castle County Executive Chris Coons has signed a controversial
land-use law despite requests from three civic organizations
for a veto. The revised ordinance, which County Council approved
7 to 6 last week, eliminates a special hearing for cluster developments.
These are high-density subdivisions with a mix of housing and
open space. The new law instead creates a public hearing for
all major developments at the earliest stage. Members of the
Southern New Castle County Civic Alliance, Milltown-Limestone
Civic Alliance and the Civic League of New Castle County asked
for a veto because they believe the law strips power from the
public and council. The special hearing is an opportunity for
council to hear public comments and turn down a plan if it doesn't
fit with surrounding land. No other type of development
has such a provision. Coons said the change "will allow
consistency in the process and take into account the public's
having their views heard at an earlier stage, thus ultimately
having greater impact on the plans."