Response to Frank Maderich re Stolz proposal for Woodlawn Trustees parcel
July 31, 2008 Frank MaderichPresidentTavistock Civic AssociationWilmington, DE Dear Frank, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. In response, let me say that I did not mean to convey the impression that Stoltz is singularly depending upon New Castle County Council to just roll over and approve a plan which is counter to good public policy and the goals of the New Castle County Comprehensive Plan. As I stated last evening, the rezoning process is part technical compliance [in the beginning] and part political [at the end]. At this early stage, citizens should focus on technical code compliance, as I discussed last evening. You are correct in part in stating that the UDC does not tell developers what type of rezoning to request but instead focuses on the technical considerations and procedure to be applied when a developer opts to seek a rezoning. The Comprehensive Development Plan and the companion zoning map describes which parcels are in designated development zones and which parcels are in preservation zones. The southwest corner of Concord Pike and Beaver Valley Road is a designated development zone, intended for intense compact transit oriented development. The land is zoned high density residential; which in my view recognized the need for this specific use along the Concord Pike corridor to counter balance the high concentrations of office and commercial, by creating a critical mass of residences to be able to walk, bike or bus to the nearby jobs and shopping. The Comp Plan and the UDC describes the character of the intense use. As I explained last evening, the County Land Use Department professionals will ultimately determine if the zoning application is “appropriate” or “inappropriate” and this will determine if the vote of County Council must be by simple or super-majority. Our Constitutionally based system of checks and balances provides every property owner may seek the right to use his land in a different manner than designated, with reasonable limitations. The system is not perfect but it has withstood the test of time in every jurisdiction in the country. The Comprehensive Plan, which reflects the consensus of public sentiment, encourages more affordable housing and more walkable transit oriented compact mixed use development within designated growth zones, which thereby lessons the burdens of traffic from our roadways. It is this latter consideration which causes me personal concern. I do not see how the proposal will achieve this objective. There is a dichotomy of decision making as between the state and county. The state provides transportation infrastructure and makes recommendations to the county, which is the ultimate decision maker. However, this interactive relationship has flaws which need addressing. It is for this reason that I have invited the top policy makers in the County and the State Transportation Department to meet with me. It is an important dialogue and long overdue. However, the best policy coordination results may never satisfy all citizens. Many citizens will not be pleased if there is any additional traffic which causes them delay. I could describe to you in detail the Malthusian scenario of Brandywine Hundred having no traffic jams. It would start with high taxes; then be followed by loss of jobs and ultimate economic collapse. One only has to examine blighted areas in other parts of our country to see many examples. Alternatively, one could chose to live in places that have low taxes and no traffic jams such as the woods of Montana. But in that example, there are very little public amenities and services. In a phrase: you can’t have both but you can seek a balance. You can chose to live in areas that have made different decisions about that balance: the decision is encapsulated in each community’s Comprehensive Plan. The ultimate solution for New Castle County is described in our Comp Plan: gradually shift from an auto dominated use based zoning system where we segregate where citizens live, shop, work and play to a form-based zoning pedestrian and transit oriented mixes of uses in designated growth zones. It is well recognized that the most efficient use of roadway infrastructure is actually service level E, which is technical failure. Service level E provides better incentives to use transit or to walk or bike. Service level E more effectively provides safety to pedestrians. It also most efficiently uses roadway capacity which has many tax and environmental benefits. But Service level E use must be coordinated with investment in multi-modal and inter-modal transit, including bike/ped enhancements. I failed to adequately explain that there is a “burden” placed upon developers: they must pay their “fair share” of infrastructure costs, as determined by state and county government. The developer in this case will have to pay for the expensive roadway and infrastructure improvements and comply with the technical requirements of the county code in order to earn a positive recommendation from our county Land Use Department professional planners. There are always those who will take exception with this methodology and I would observe that there are flaws. The Comprehensive Plan is just a “road map”. We now must implement the Comp Plan by enacting legislation which provides incentives and direction, penalties and coordination for making our community vision a reality. It is frustrating to all that this process is time consuming and complex. There are those who oppose the vision of the Comp Plan and therefore work to block each and every effort to implement the Comp plan. Also, there are honest disagreements as between the advocates for change as to how best to implement the promise of affordable housing, or the examples which you enumerated: senior housing and trauma centers. Like you, I still strongly believe that we need more senior housing and a trauma center in Brandywine Hundred. However, I recognize that since I do not own the land, I can encourage these uses, but I also better be prepared to comment on how the proposed use by the developer/land owner can be the very best it can be. I personally take great satisfaction in the fact that I conceived and sponsored a density bonus for builders of age restricted housing in New Castle County. This incentive 10 years ago literally launched the age-restricted home builders into business in our counties. Previously, they were not able to compete with builders of other housing styles in purchasing available land upon which to build. We can never afford to build our way out of traffic congestion. Nor should we strive to do so. We must make a paradigm shift away from suburban sprawl patterns to transit oriented interconnected mixed use villages. We will ultimately be compelled to make this shift; so the sooner we get started, the better. The greatest challenge is identifying the best opportunities to begin the process in suburbia. The shift will be expensive and painful and will take 40 years or more. But, as the population continues to grow, we must all learn to live in more compact areas while preserving our sacred open space and clean air; while also cutting the umbilical cord from foreign oil interests. This is what Europe and other progressive smart growth communities elsewhere have already done…for hundreds of years, in many instances. In America, we still have this “wild west” mentality which says that open space is in unlimited supply. When people say “we don’t need growth”, it ignores the fact that growth is as inevitable as is procreation. The challenge is to responsibly manage growth. However, we will never satisfy everyone. We can only educate and hope that most citizens will comprehend the importance of the balance between (1) economic development and (2) environmental protection, (3) land use and (3) transportation coordination, with (5) social equity considerations [i.e. work force housing]. These are the 5 legs of “smart growth”. See www.CNU.org, www.ULI.org, www.APA.org. www.smartgrowthamerica.org for additional details. Also, please see my essays section under www.bobweiner.com. Best wishes. Bob Weiner, your County Councilman“Making County Government Work for Us”Robert S. WeinerCouncil District 2, New Castle County, DEwww.bobweiner.comLouis Hinkle, aide to Councilman Weiner 302-395-8362
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