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Columbia Place at Garden of Eden Road/Pilot School site development's foes find an opening/ Planning board erred in vote that OK'd project - News Journal

Delaware towns: Talleyville development's foes find an opening
Planning board erred in vote that OK'd project

Residents determined not to see a high-density development built near their Talleyville neighborhoods aren't going down without a fight.

Poring over land-use laws like a team of eagle-eye attorneys, the residents discovered the New Castle County Planning Board did not follow its own bylaws when members voted in November to recommend the project go forward.

The bylaws call for a majority vote of five of the nine members. But the board voted 4-3 to affirm the 15-acre property belonging to the Pilot School could be rezoned to accommodate the 149 dwellings that developer Jerome Heisler wants to build there.

The age-restricted community, with a mix of single family homes, two-story town houses and condominiums, would be called Columbia Place at Garden of Eden Road.

"I've been reading the bylaws and the guidelines from the Planning Board two or three or four times ever since we got into this because, the sad thing is, nobody tells the citizens anything," said Frank Maderich, who is heading the opposition group.

Residents in Tavistock, where Maderich has lived for 37 years, and Edenridge III are worried about how the proposed density of Columbia Place will affect the character of the community and quality of life.

Maderich brought the error to the attention of Planning Board Chairman Vic Singer, and county officials confirmed the mistake was indeed made.

Ken Bieri, assistant planning manager in the county's Department of Land Use, said Thursday the error means the project will go before County Council in January without a recommendation from the board. In deciding on a rezoning, the 13 council members often rely on the recommendations from the board and the department.

The department already gave the project a thumbs up, and that recommendation is still valid, Bieri said.

Councilman Robert Weiner, whose district includes the disputed property, has said he will vote against the rezoning ordinance based on the objections of so many constituents.

Weiner said he isn't sure how the mistake will affect the decision of the other council members.

"Each council member must exercise his own discretion on how to weigh the two recommendations," he said. "Each must consider the recommendations as well as citizens' testimony and the applicant's testimony."

Heisler could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Weiner, an attorney, said he's impressed with the residents' skill in finding the error.

"I am pleased and proud to represent constituent groups such as this that are tenacious in their commitment to respectfully and diligently protect the community interests by working through all proper legal channels," he said. "[They] understand that simply screaming, 'We don't need this,' is inapplicable and ineffective."

The discovery of the mistake has prompted Land Use to begin reviewing other votes to make sure similar errors have not happened in the past. So far, Bieri said, no other problems have been found.

And the small victory is pushing Maderich and his neighbors to keeping on fighting.

When asked why they are working so hard, he replied: "Because we want to change the outcome."


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