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7/25/2007
Councilman Weiner's amendments to Comp Plan

NCCo OKs county plan without fireworks

By ANGIE BASIOUNY, The News Journal
Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2007

WILMINGTON -- New Castle County Council voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of a land-use master plan that controls suburban sprawl, preserves open space and encourages transit-friendly communities that have a mix of commercial and residential development.

The specter of major, last-minute floor amendments, which threatened to derail approval of the 2007 Comprehensive Development Plan, never materialized and a 12-0 vote came after less than 20 minutes of discussion.

"For those of you from the public who came out expecting secrecy, that's not how we operate," Council President Paul Clark said to the audience moments before the vote was taken.

In the past several weeks, council members had debated a pair of amendments that would have changed substantially the direction of the plan and jeopardized its certification with the state. Although the amendments were pulled last week, many in the government speculated the measures would return Tuesday night as floor amendments.

The comprehensive plan calls for concentrating southern county development in an area near Middletown where the county is building a central core of sewer mains.

One of the amendments would have allowed developers with plans outside the sewer core to pursue their own methods of disposal, an idea contrary to a 2006 county-approved plan to use sewers throughout the entire southern region in the long term.

The other amendment also would have granted an exception to southern developers who have medium- or high-density developments already in the pipeline for areas that are now marked for low density under the plan.

The amendments had drawn heavy criticism first from council members Penrose Hollins and Stephanie McClellan, who argued the comprehensive plan should not be used to benefit individual developers.

Then the county administration weighed in.

Chief Administrative Officer Jeffrey Bullock, who is top aide to County Executive Chris Coons, called the amendments "wrong and unacceptable" and said Clark was "backpedaling" on an agreement to deal with the southern sewer issue through appropriate means.

On Tuesday, Bullock praised council for approving the plan.

"I'm happy it was a unanimous vote given the controversy and difficult issues the council had to face," he said.

Councilman David Tackett, who sponsored the ordinance for the draft plan, said last week he would table the entire legislation if any council member brought significant, 11th-hour amendments to the floor.

But there was no need. "We've spent a lot of time on this," Tackett said. "This has been a long, cumbersome process."

The county released the draft plan in late November after more than a year of work to create it. More than 200 government officials, developers, attorneys, civic activists and other stakeholders met in subcommittees for months to craft recommendations that were folded into the draft.

In the end, there were 82 minor changes and just two floor amendments from Councilman Robert Weiner that tweaked some language.

The plan, which the state requires be updated every five years, is important because it is the basis for the county's body of law known as the Unified Development Code.

Weiner said that although the newly approved plan does not resolve the issues with southern sewer service, it will begin to reverse the damage done by the code he helped put into place a decade ago.

"The UDC did a lot of good things in protecting the environment, but it did one very bad thing" in fostering suburban sprawl, he said. "I feel partially responsible for that."


Peggy Schultz, a Pike Creek resident, told council the plan was about making choices and said she believes in the benefits of mixed-use communities.

"If that's not your thing, don't worry," she said. "The updated comprehensive plan doesn't force anyone to move from their suburban place in the sun."
Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or abasiouny@delawareonline.com.

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