unanimously voting to require that half of the land in any
subdivision of 50 acres or more be set aside as open space and
half of that dedicated to preservation of natural resources and
elements, the lawmakers settled the one remaining issue in the
nearly year-long process of drafting the most significant change
to the signature Unified Development Code since that law was
enacted at the end of 1997.
Councilwoman Karen Venezky said the new 'environment first'
ordinance will require that developers and planners give initial
priority to drawing up a "sustainable management plan" for
natural features instead of dealing with them, if at all, as an
afterthought. "We don't know yet the full impact of preserving
these open spaces," she said, adding that the overall result
cannot help but be beneficial to the present and future
one on Council or in the audience spoke anything but praise for
the pending ordinance, there was sharp division over an
issue that has surfaced several times during the drafting
process -- whether golf courses are compatible with natural
resource preservation and appropriate for situating the the
required natural resources areas.
session on July 8, Councilman Robert Weiner offered an amendment
that would restore "environmentally sensitive" courses to the
list of acceptable uses in those areas. It drew favorable and
unfavorable comment, as expected, from developer interests and
conservation organizations, respectively.
very difficult to find and environmentally friendly golf
course," said civic activist Marion Stewart. Eileen Butler, of
the Delaware Nature Society, said that golf courses would
"compromise the integrity" of natural resources areas.
Baxter, executive director of the Committee of 100, on the other
hand, said that it was bad policy to single out a use that is
relatively unobtrusive in dedicated open space.
Haggerty, assistant general manager of the Department of Land
Use, said that the golf course issue was the thorniest
encountered during the drafting process. There was a sharp
diversion of opinion not only in the advisory panel but also
among department professionals working to come up with an
acceptable ordinance. "It all seemed to come down to whether you
golf or not," he said.
council voted down the amendment by a four-to-two margin, with
Weiner and Council president Christopher Coons voting for it,
Weiner offered a second one eliminating several other uses that
were originally deemed permissible, if they met environmental
criteria, in the natural resources area. They included
ball fields, day camps, fishing areas, nature centers,
playgrounds and pools.
and Baxter both said they favored no extraneous uses in the
natural resources areas if certain uses were excluded. Butler
said that the nature society had no objections to hunting or
fishing areas, and shooting or archery ranges -- although one of
the stated purposes of the areas is as wildlife preserves.
Bailey, a resident of the Bear area, said that all open space
should be put to uses that benefit the communities in which they
are located. Put "something on the open space that would be a
contribution and not just a pile of weeds," he said. Venezky
responded, "Your weeds could be my wild flowers."
ordinance does provide that half of the open space set-aside
become a community-use area offering opportunities for passive
or active recreation or a combination.
second amendment passed unanimously, with one Council member,
Penrose Hollins absent from the session.
no debate, but nearly two hours of testimony and discussion,
before Council approved, unanimously, the granting Christiana
Hospital a level-of-service waiver, permitting otherwise
unacceptable levels of traffic congestion, and a resolution
authorizing the land use department discretionary authority to
approve the hospital's preliminary plan for a 1.1 million square
discussion centered on whether Delaware Department of
Transportation will provide highway improvements sufficient to
handle the expected increased volume of traffic during the
10-year period in which the additional facilities are being
built and put into operation.
see anything happening in the Churchmans Crossing area (where
the hospital is located) like what is happening at Blue Ball to
support Astra Zeneca," Councilman William Tansey told Secretary
of Transportation Nathan Hayward, whom Council invited to
testify at the session.
letter to Council members, Hayward listed several highway
projects in the area since 1997 and several others he said were
in at least the project development stage. As previously
reported, they include adding a fifth lane to both sides of
Interstate 95 and improving the Interstate 95-Delaware 1
oral testimony, Hayward said the department is fully committed
to those projects but added that he could not provide a specific
timetable for completing them. "We're going to solve this
[traffic congestion] problem ... but it is going to take
patience and forbearance," he said. "It's my number one priority
in New Castle County."
referred obliquely to the prospect of "jump start[ing] some of
this with the help of private partners,"
Laskowski, newly appointed president of Christiana Care Health
System, the hospital's parent company, testified that the
expansion must begin at once because the hospital has "a
critical shortage of space." On a typical day, there are 10 to
20 patients required to wait several hours "on stretchers in the
hallway" for admission to regular rooms. He said an aging
population and medical advances have combined to significantly
increase the demand for hospital care.
Councilman Robert Wood, in whose district the hospital is
located and who sponsored both resolutions, said there is no
doubt that the expansion is needed and no one on Council
objected to providing the necessary governmental support to make
said that, in connection with the waiver, hospital management
has agreed to a plan that would "go beyond the minimum" in
relieving the demands of its employees for road space.
Specifically, he explained, it will attempt to have a 17$ to 18%
reduction in the number of employees who arrive during morning
rush hours and leave during the afternoon rush in
single-occupant vehicles. The requirement is a 15% reduction
over the course of the expansion. The hospital has about 4,000
employees and expects to add another 1,000 during the course of
the expansion, Laskowski said.
lawyers, however, voiced strong objection to Council's
accommodating the hospital while not taking single steps to
permit commercial expansion in the area. Larry Tarabicos, who
represents Christiana Mall, and Sean Tucker, who represents
developer Frank Acierno, charged that both county officials and
DelDOT were applying double standards.
Narcowich, immediate past president of the Civic League for New
Castle County, questioned why the hospital wants to expand and
concentrate all its resources at one location where a single
terrorist attack would result in disaster for the entire area.
saved its most contentious issue for last. After about half of
the approximately 100 county employees who helped fill the
chamber at the beginning of the session had drifted away, four
Council members introduced a resolution urging the General
Assembly to take no further action on a measure, which has
passed the House of Representatives, to return county
departments to being directed by politically appointed
of the 1998 reorganization of county government by County
Executive Tom Gordon, Council and the General Assembly agreed to
abolish the appointment system in favor of having the
departments run by general managers promoted from the
professional ranks through the civil service, or merit, process.
Delaforum previously reported, the Gordon administration claimed
it was blind-sided by an effort sparked by Coons and Weiner to
have the Assembly enact legislation reverting to the previous
system. That was introduced and passed by the House under a
suspension of rules during the closing days of the recently
completed session. The Senate did not follow suit but the bill
remains in committee there and could be enacted into law during
a special session this summer or autumn or after the Assembly
returns for its second session in January.
Ruth Ann Minner is expected to calla the Senate back to confirm
appointments, possibly as soon as August.
the employees who turned out for the meeting wore tee-shirts
with the inscription "Impeach Coons." Coons voiced his usual
welcome at the opening of the session and deadpanned a comment
that he was glad to see the overflow crowd of "so many who are
interested in county government." He asked for an received good
deportment from the crowd during the session. A few alternately
raised and lowered hand-lettered posters but that was the extent
of ther demonstration.
said the issue of appointed versus merit system directors is one
that should be settled by the voters during the 2004 elections.
Councilwoman Patty Powell said that changing back would lower
the quality of departmental leadership because "it's difficult
to go out and hire people knowing that they will only be [in the
jobs] for four years."
resolution, sponsored by Tansey, Powell, Woods and Venezky, was
introduced and moved to adoption during a catchall part of the
agenda referred to as "Item J." That is intended to allow
Council to take action, on an emergency basis, on matters not on
the formal agenda or otherwise given advance notice.
Flaherty, of Common Cause of Delaware, and Baxter testified that
was the Council equivalent to the legislature's suspension of
rules. "This is an important issue, but do not [handle] it in
this way," Baxter urged.
Freebery, the county's chief administrative officer, testified
that the legislation "was rammed through by House Republicans
and cautioned that, unless Council formally stated its objection
to the measure, the Senate is likely to act at its conformation
representative Gregory Lavelle, a House Republican, testified
there was nothing underhanded about the proposed legislation and
that acting under suspension of rules is not unusual in the
legilature. He voted in favor of the measure. He said the issue
is whether the county executive who is elected in 2004 has the
right to appoint people of his choosing to leadership positions
in his administration. Governors, presidents and elected
government executives in virtually every jurisdiction have that
right, he said.
Democrat, and Weiner, a Republican, both are considered to
aspire to be the next county executive. Freebery, a Democrat,
also is considered a possible candidate.
sponsors voted for the resolution, which was thereby approved.
Coons and Weiner voted against it. Tansey is a Republican; the
other sponsors are Democrats.
companion resolution, sponsored by Venexky and passed,
reaffirmed Council's "support of the reorganization [of county
government[ ... to include establishment of merit system general
announced that Council will address the issue of appointment
versus merit system head-on at its next session -- the last
before it takes the month of August off -- when it considers an
ordinance that would reinstate the position of director of
public safety as a successor to retired police chief John