NCCo considers change to land-use regulations
Move would give more residents a voice on proposals
By ANGIE BASIOUNY / The News Journal
New Castle County Council is considering a measure that would give residents a chance to voice complaints or offer compliments on major development proposals before the plans are drawn.
If approved, the law would mark a change in land-use regulations that now require a special public hearing only for cluster developments. These are subdivisions that allow developers to build high-density dwellings, such as town houses or small-tract homes, in exchange for surrounding the housing with open space.
The design is considered environmentally friendly and fits in with the governor's Livable Delaware initiative to control suburban sprawl. But critics argue that cluster developments bring down property values of adjacent housing and generate increased traffic.
Council President Paul Clark introduced the ordinance Tuesday, saying he wants to remove the stigma that cluster developments face.
"I think it truly evens the playing field," he said. "Let's just go right on the table with all of the plans."
The special hearing was written into the county's land-use code in 1997 as cluster developments began popping up in growth areas such as Bear and Middletown. The hearing is done during the preliminary stage of the plan, when developers already have a blueprint of what they want to build. That makes it less likely they will want to spend the money to make any changes suggested by neighbors.
"The whole idea is to front-end load the community input process rather than wait until hundreds of thousands of dollars are already spent," Councilman Robert Weiner said.
Reaching a compromise
An outspoken opponent of the hearing, Weiner tried in 2003 to amend the ordinance requiring it. But he did not have enough support from council members including Patty Powell, who said her constituents wanted the opportunity to speak out. Powell's district includes the fast-growing Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area in southern New Castle County.
Weiner earlier this month reformed his study group to tackle the issue again and settled on a similar proposal before he headed out of town for a government conference.
Clark, meantime, came up with the compromise, which calls for a hearing during the exploratory stage of all development proposals.
"Paul and I are of the same mind on this," Weiner said. "It's really a better way to go. I'm just pleased I started this process forward. It doesn't really matter who sponsors it."
David Carter, who lives in Townsend, said the ordinance does not get to the root of the problem: too much land that is zoned to allow housing, especially south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.
He said the county needs to examine the Unified Development Code, which governs land use, and compare it with the projected housing needs of the county.
"When they tell me it's important for economic reasons, when they tell me it's leveling the playing field, that's just not true," said Carter, a member of the Southern New Castle County Alliance, a civic group.
The ordinance is set for a vote during council's next meeting on Sept. 13.
Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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