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10/29/2009
Talleyville community fights development plans; Councilman Weiner supports community - News Journal

Talleyville community fights development plans
Tavistock concerned about proposed high-density neighborhood behind U.S. 202
BY ANGIE BASIOUNY • THE NEWS JOURNAL • OCTOBER 29, 2009

Meg Campbell has the perfect neighbors.

The backyard of her home in the Talleyville community of Tavistock borders the Pilot School's athletic field. She occasionally sees students running laps on the other side of her post-and-rail fence, but all is quiet on nights and weekends.

That could change with a developer's proposal to buy the site from the school and convert it into a high-density, age-restricted neighborhood with a mix of 150 single-family homes, condominiums and two-story carriage homes.

Her soon-to-be-spoiled view isn't the reason why Campbell has joined with a group of her neighbors in Tavistock and adjacent Edenridge to fight the redevelopment, which is named Columbia Place at Garden of Eden Road. The residents said they are concerned about how the proposed density of 10 dwelling units per acre -- higher than any of the surrounding neighborhoods -- will affect the character of the community and quality of life.

"That's not what's motivating us," Campbell said about the single-family home that could be built 20 feet from her property line. "We'll put up trees. It's a bigger community issue than my backyard."

Developer Jerome Heisler of Reybold Group, who is behind the project, is disappointed with the opposition because he thinks his plan is a good fit for the area right off U.S. 202, a busy retail corridor ringed by residential development. The Jewish Community Center, Brandywine Valley Baptist Church and a YMCA are next door.

Heisler said he designed Columbia Place with the highest-density condos and carriage homes farther away from existing neighborhoods and strict architectural standards to make the dwellings similar in appearance to the attractive homes of Tavistock and Edenridge. The community will be age restricted to those over 55, which means less traffic than a typical neighborhood. It also follows the county's 2007 Comprehensive Plan guidelines, which call for infill development along nearly built-out corridors such as U.S. 202.

Heisler said he's been working closely with the residents since he first entered his development application with New Castle County in the spring, and he's tried to accommodate their wishes as much as possible.

"We've gone ahead of the curve on this one and it seems there's a ton of push-back," he said. "There's more concern about the density than the quality of the project."

Heisler and the residents have met several times and will get together again tonight to discuss Columbia Place. A public hearing before the county Planning Board is scheduled for Tuesday.

"I will continually try to dialogue with the residents and, hopefully, we'll resolve it," Heisler said. "However, it's up to County Council to resolve this issue."

Heisler is negotiating to buy the 15-acre property from the Pilot School, which is planning to relocate about a mile north. He is asking council to rezone the land from "suburban" to "suburban transition," a classification that allows greater density. Without rezoning approval, he will be limited to a density of about 1.25 dwellings per acre and the project in its current form will not be able to go forward.

Councilman Robert Weiner will sponsor the rezoning ordinance because Columbia Place is within his district. But he said he will vote against the measure based on the objections of so many constituents.

The position is a departure for Weiner, a longtime advocate of "smart growth" principles that corral sprawl through developments that are integrated with transportation, shopping and other amenities. He also is a proponent of redevelopment that make use of existing land rather than building on pristine land, which is the kind of project Columbia Place is.

But this is different, Weiner said. The site is not an abandoned office complex or blighted shopping center.

"From the communities' perspective, this is not a transition parcel but instead an integral part of the residential community, which has a density averaging four dwelling units per acre and not 10," he said.

Frank Maderich, a Tavistock resident for 37 years who is heading the opposition group, said this isn't a case of "not in my backyard." The residents have done their homework, researching land-use laws and vetting Heisler's other developments, mostly in the Bear and Glasgow areas, that have garnered him much praise from public officials because of their design.

"We've gone ahead of the curve on this one and it seems there's a ton of push-back," he said. "There's more concern about the density than the quality of the project."

Heisler and the residents have met several times and will get together again tonight to discuss Columbia Place. A public hearing before the county Planning Board is scheduled for Tuesday.

"I will continually try to dialogue with the residents and, hopefully, we'll resolve it," Heisler said. "However, it's up to County Council to resolve this issue."

Heisler is negotiating to buy the 15-acre property from the Pilot School, which is planning to relocate about a mile north. He is asking council to rezone the land from "suburban" to "suburban transition," a classification that allows greater density. Without rezoning approval, he will be limited to a density of about 1.25 dwellings per acre and the project in its current form will not be able to go forward.

Councilman Robert Weiner will sponsor the rezoning ordinance because Columbia Place is within his district. But he said he will vote against the measure based on the objections of so many constituents.

The position is a departure for Weiner, a longtime advocate of "smart growth" principles that corral sprawl through developments that are integrated with transportation, shopping and other amenities. He also is a proponent of redevelopment that make use of existing land rather than building on pristine land, which is the kind of project Columbia Place is.

But this is different, Weiner said. The site is not an abandoned office complex or blighted shopping center.

"From the communities' perspective, this is not a transition parcel but instead an integral part of the residential community, which has a density averaging four dwelling units per acre and not 10," he said.

Frank Maderich, a Tavistock resident for 37 years who is heading the opposition group, said this isn't a case of "not in my backyard." The residents have done their homework, researching land-use laws and vetting Heisler's other developments, mostly in the Bear and Glasgow areas, that have garnered him much praise from public officials because of their design.

But Bear -- an area characterized by sprawl -- is not Talleyville, Maderich said. Columbia Place would have condominium buildings four stories high and generate plenty of traffic from utility trucks, visitors and other services for residents.

"The first time they laid out the concept, our eyes just rolled," Maderich said. "Something's going in there. We know that. But we would like to see a lower density."
Campbell wants Heisler to "take a big step back" and reconsider his plan.

"By pushing for the maximum number [of dwellings], he's creating a set of issues," she said. "Now, he has to ask for variances and waivers."

Heisler said his stormwater plan conforms with current standards and he's asking for a slight height variance to make the roofline of the condominium buildings more decorative.

"We believe it's the right project at the right place, and if it's done tastefully, everybody will be better off," he said. "The saddest thing is that if it got redeveloped into something else that wasn't an adequate transition for the community, they are going to be worse off."

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