Councilwoman Karen Venezky, who is sponsoring the ordinance,
which clearly would be the most sweeping change in the Unified
Development Code since its adoption, said it meets half of the
'core goals' in the county's comprehensive plan, "completes what
we started with the [code] and places [the] environment first."
provision in the proposed law is that developers set aside at
least half of the land in every subdivision as open space and,
in larger communities, dedicate half of that to be a managed
natural-resources conservation area. Drainage ponds,
which have become common features of the suburban landscape
during the past decade or so, would give way to systems to
control stormwater with vegetation and by other natural means.
Venezky said, is tantamount to stepping aside "and let[ting]
Mother Nature do her job."
than place consideration of environmental effects well down in
the sequence of events during the subdivision review and
approval process, they would necessarily have to be incorporated
into the subdivision's initial design.
That approach -- which emulate some
practices that have been common for a long time in Europe and
are gaining favor in this country -- would eventually change the
basic appearance of suburbia, at least its newer components.
Strings of individual homesteads with manicured lawns and
dwellings of similar size and style, which emerged during the
post-Second World War housing and baby booms,
would be replaced by a variety of
structures in more compact configurations interspersed among
extended splotches of woodlands, meadow, minimally disturbed
steams and other pristine features.
"The conservation-design principles
put forth in the ordinance offer critical opportunities to help
Delaware develop responsibly while protecting the state's
natural resource base," Eileen Butler, of the Delaware Nature
Society, testified at the hearing on June 3.
Stephen Johns, of the American
Council of Engineering Companies, charged that it would "greatly
reduce the amount of land available for development."
Beverly Baxter, executive director
of the Committee of 100, a development-related trade
organization, testified that the version of the ordinance which
finally emerged from a quasipulic drafting process violates some
basic premises that were established last autumn. Specifically,
she said, the proposed law would now apply to all residential
development instead of just large subdivisions, emphasizes
regulation instead of encouraging voluntary participation, and
fails to provide builders with compensating
They're really teed off
feel about golf courses might signal how you
feel about the proposed conservation design
Baxter, of the Committee of 100, protested
against their being disallowd in natural
resources open space while such things as
stables, day camps and picnic areas are
Engineer Stephen Johns said banning courses
is ridiculous so long as they can pass an
environmental assessment test.
course is not anti-environment," homebuilder
Richard Wooden testified.
Butler, of the Delaware Nature Society,
however, supported the ban, saying that
greens and fairways eat up large doses of
stuff which doesn't get along well with
such as greater housing densities, as inducements.
all looking for ways to protect the environment, but at the same
time do something positive in connection with development," she
Johns and Baxter said that the ordinance requires construction
of the originally planned sanitary sewer system in the area of
the county south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. The
reasoning is that residential lots will necessarily be smaller
to economically justify setting aside half of the total
development area and their size will not support septic systems.
County Council is currently attempting to decide whether the
sewer project should be allowed to proceed in its original
it will apply only to new development, southern New Castle
County is the area that will be most impacted by the
conservation design ordinance if it is adopted.
only to the question about sewers, they and others at the
hearing raised the matter of to what extent the county is
willing to permit so-called cluster development; that is,
construction of housing of different sizes and presumed values
in the same general area.
Wooden, president of the Homebuilders Association of Delaware,
took up on a comment made by Planning Board chairman Victor
Singer and testified that cluster development "should become the
norm, rather than the exception" under the Unified Development
southern part of the county, small lots are obviously not
compatible with surrounding rural areas, he said, adding that
unavailability of townhouses, the suburban equivalent of urban
row houses, is the most pressing housing concern in the county.
serious about being able to control [suburban] sprawl, we're
going to have to get serious about clustering," said Lisa
Goodman, an attorney who specializes in land-use law.
ordinance was being drafted, there were suggestions that
builders be given a 'density bonus' in return for employing
conservation design techniques. That idea was dropped by the
time the Department of Land Use staff finished its crafting of
deliberate, according to Charles Baker, general manager of the
department. Allowing builders to put more structures on a given
tract of land than has been deemed reasonable under the
development code, he said, is unwise and apparently unnecessary.
Currently, new subdivision proposals average 47% open space, he
also supported the concept of the ordinance's going beyond
assigning responsibility for maintaining open space to community
maintenance organizations supported by mandatory fees levied on
property owners within the respective communities to also
providing for the possibility that recognized conservation
organizations take it over.
raised a question about relying on the long-term viability of
such organizations. "How to bring in third-party conservancies
is something that will have to be worked out. ... They will not
replace maintenance organizations," she said.
said the nature society currently manages conservation easements
on about 1,000 acres throughout the state. While it has the
resources to continue to do so indefinitely, she said, there is
an understanding that, should that not be the situation in the
future, state government will assume the responsibility.
said none of the open space set aside during the subdivision and
renewal process under the proposed ordinance will ever be
available for development. But he said a corollary of that
assurance is that "the community that benefits from the open
space ought to pay for it." Allowing conservation and
similar organizations to assume responsibility for conservation
easements provides an alternative for community-run maintenance
organizations to seek and negotiate for their assistance.
our objectives was to look for means to get maintenance
corporations out of [having to care for the natural resources
areas] without having county government take it over," Baker
at the hearing lauded George Haggerty, assistant general manager
of the land use department, for having managed the drafting
process, which involved about 20 structured sessions with an
advisory group representing a broad range of business and
community interest and perhaps twice that many individual
meetings with affected organizations. Venezky referred to that
as a possibly unique example of public participation in drafting