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10/11/2011
Divisive Barley Mill rezoning up for vote; If request is denied, developer may build initial, bigger complex - News Journal

Councilman Bob Weiner, who represents most of the neighborhoods around Barley Mill, said it's the most divisive issue he's seen in his 15 years in office.

"I've heard from dozens of people on both sides, and I've never received so many emails split between the two divergent points of view," Weiner said.

Weiner would not say how he intends to vote tonight.


Divisive Barley Mill rezoning up for vote

Oct. 11, 2011   ADAM TAYLOR The News Journal

New Castle County Council is scheduled to decide tonight whether to rezone 40 percent of the Barley Mill Plaza office complex to allow for a 450,000-square-foot shopping center.

The vote is the culmination of a three-year effort by Pennsylvania-based Stoltz Real Estate Partners to redevelop the 92-acre former Du Pont Co. site at Del. 141 and Del. 48 in Greenville.

Resident Tom Dewson, who wants the council to reject Stoltz's rezoning request, said the vote will determine whether Del. 141 gets turned into a commercial corridor.

"This is one of the most important land-use decisions of our lifetime," Dewson said.

Councilman Bob Weiner, who represents most of the neighborhoods around Barley Mill, said it's the most divisive issue he's seen in his 15 years in office.

"I've heard from dozens of people on both sides, and I've never received so many emails split between the two divergent points of view," Weiner said.

Weiner would not say how he intends to vote tonight.

Council President Tom Kovach, who said he is virtually certain he will vote in favor of the rezoning request, said it's the most difficult vote he will cast since his swearing-in in January. The difficulty lies with the 2.8 million-square-foot mixed-use proposal Stoltz could build without council's approval if tonight's 1.6 million-square-foot plan -- of which the proposed commercial rezoning is a part -- is rejected.

"A vote for this smaller compromise plan isn't an anti-development vote if he goes and builds the bigger plan," Kovach said. "And a vote against the compromise isn't necessarily a vote for the community, because you could vote against this and ruin the neighborhood. It's hard to vote on principle one way or the other."

Land compromise

Stoltz's original 2.8 million-square-foot proposal would be as big as the King of Prussia Mall. It calls for 700,000 square feet of commercial space, 700,000 square feet of residential space and 1.4 million square feet of office space.

The 1.6 million-square-foot compromise plan calls for 450,000 square feet of commercial space and 1.2 million square feet of office space.

No commercial rezoning would be required for the original plan to be built, because the site's current office-regional zoning designation allows for mixed-use plans that have a commercial component, county Land Use General Manager David Culver said.

But the existing office-regional zoning also poses problems for Stoltz, according to Bob Valihura, a leader of the community group Citizens for Responsible Growth, which fine-tuned the compromise plan that was brokered with Stoltz by former County Executive Chris Coons. It requires that a certain number of residential units be built before construction of the commercial space can begin. Stoltz would rather not build residential at all, but would do so if he had to in order to get the commercial space he desires, Valihura said.

In exchange for Stoltz building a complex that is 1.2 million square feet smaller than what he's allowed to construct, the compromise would give the developer a commercial- regional status for 37 acres. If rezoned, the commercial-regional status would allow Stoltz to build the 450,000 square feet of commercial space all at once and eliminate the residential component of the plan. It also would give him the ability to build lucrative pad sites on the commercial space, which is not allowed under the current office-regional zoning.

Stoltz also agreed to limit building heights to four stories and not put big-box stores, convenience stores or gas stations on the site. He did so to try to get the community's support for the rezoning, Valihura said.

Walter McEvilly, an attorney and a member of the Save Our County Coalition that has lobbied the County Council to reject the compromise plan, said the deed restrictions that allegedly limit what Stoltz can do on the property are vague and could be easily broken.

"Deed restrictions need to be very specific to be ironclad," McEvilly said.

Backup plan

The county land-use department has recommended that the council approve the plan, saying the intersection of Del. 141 and Del. 48 is suitable for more intense development. The county Planning Board wants the council to reject the plan, saying it's out of character with the immediate neighborhood.

Save Our County members said Stoltz never wanted to build the larger plan in the first place.

"Stoltz set up a horror story that he never intended to build," McEvilly said. "All anyone has to do is look at the road structure at Barley Mill and compare it to the roads around the King of Prussia or Christiana malls and they'll realize that a 2.8 million-square-feet project isn't feasible."

Citizens for Responsible Growth President John Danzeisen, the only community member in direct contact with principal developer Keith Stoltz for the past year, said Stoltz isn't bluffing about building the 2.8 million-square-foot plan.

"I just spoke to him Friday and I know what's in his heart," Danzeisen said. "If this gets voted down, he will not sit down with the community and negotiate something new. He will revert to his larger, by-right plan."

Kovach said he will likely vote for the plan because he thinks Stoltz made real concessions in agreeing to the smaller plan, such as less commercial space.

The majority of council wouldn't say how they planned to vote tonight or didn't return calls. Councilmen Penrose Hollins and Jea Street, said they will likely vote against it.

Stoltz spokesman Tom Gailey said in a statement that he hopes the council approves the plan.

"The compromise plan was the result of months of negotiations and hard work by CRG, a group of volunteers who reside in the community in which this property is located," Gailey said. "We hope that County Council will see that the plan for Barley Mill Plaza is a well-conceived plan that represents the shared vision of the property owner and the majority of those residents living in the area of this property."

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