After the Planning
Board voted unanimously on June 17 to recommend passage of the
amending ordinance, Councilwoman Karen Venezky, its sponsor,
predicted that Council also will act without dissent. "I
certainly hope so [because of] all the good that it does for the
county," she said. A vote could occur as soon as July 8.
Charles Baker, general
manager of the Department of Land Use, told the Planning Board
that quick passage is desirable. Any delay "would be a concern
to the department [because] we're trying to massage
[development] plans that are in process right now," he said.
The timetable was
nearly upset when board members Joseph Maloney and Fritz
Griesinger attempted to table consideration of the ordinance
until the board's July business meeting. If that were done,
Baker said, it would mean at least a two-month delay in final
passage. Council does not meet during the month of August.
Maloney objected to
the board's having been presented as it was convening with a
list of nine changes the department had made in the ordinance
following a public hearing on June 3. Griesinger was miffed
because he had not received a response to an e.mail he had sent
to the department just after the hearing, posing several
questions about details of the draft ordinance.
After a series of
parliamentary motions, Maloney agreed to withdraw his tabling
motion after Baker and George Haggerty, assistant general
manager, explained that only two of the changes were
substantive. One limited application of the new standards to
developments of 50 acres of more and prohibited subdividing such
tracts to bring them under that threshold. The other
specifically stated that land designated as a natural resources
conservation area within developments could not be developed in
Haggerty went beyond
that to say that the ordinance is designed to apply only to new
developments and there is no intention to require retrofitting
of existing ones. "This is all about going forward; this is not
about going back," he said.
Maloney said he did
not want to hold the ordinance hostage to another issue -- an
allegation that board decisions are made difficult by
last-minute receipt of additional material from the land use
department. Griesinger, however, would not withdraw his
seconding the tabling motion, forcing the full board to vote
down the idea of tabling.
Baker and Haggerty
then went on to respond to each of the questions that Griesinger
had asked -- evidently to his satisfaction, judging by his
ultimately voting in favor of recommending Council approval.
In an unusually long
draft recommendation to County Council, based on its position
concerning the matter, the department gave the ordinance an
unqualified professional endorsement.
provides a density-neutral approach for a fair and equitable way
to balance conservation and development objectives," the
"Growth is inevitable,
but by contributing to development plans early in the process,
the 'environment first' ordinance will not only avoid the
potential degradation of New Castle County's environmental
resources, it will also help to control escalating financial and
social costs that often accompany growth."
It went on to say
there is no need for further public hearings and redrafting.
Baker told the board there had been 43 meetings with developers,
engineers, conservation groups, community activists and other
interested parties. There also was a series of sessions with a
public advisory group formed by the department.
The draft described
the proposed ordinance as "the first major implementation" of
the county's comprehensive plan since the latest version was
approved in 2002.
Haggerty later noted
that environmental protection remains a proverbial 'work in
progress'. "Don't think this is the end to the debate over open
space. This is just the next step," he said.
appears to be the most significant open issue with the draft
ordinance, the draft recommendation said that provisions to
allow third-party organizations -- mostly conservation-oriented
groups -- to own and manage protected natural resource open
space were intended as an option to assigning that
responsibility exclusively to community maintenance
organizations or having county government assume it.
Turning to outside
organizations :"is not a requirement, but another alternative
offered to potentially enhance and assure that natural resource
areas are maintained in accordance with [an] open-space
management plan," the recommendation said. Baker later explained
that use of conservancies is expected to be rare. It will make
sense in some cases, he said, to turn to "a group that has
experience [managing natural areas] instead of a [community]
maintenance organization that has no experience."
chairman Victor Singer took up that point, saying that the role
of county government should be limited to "picking up the
refrigerators and washers" which, inevitably, will be dumped
there from time to time and not to incorporate the natural areas
into the county parks system. The public, he said, would tend to
demand that if those areas were county owned and managed.
"It's not a park; it's natural open space. Whatever grows there
is what nature wants to grow there," Singer said.