October 29, 2002

A diverse group of 'stakeholders' helping to craft an ordinance which would require developers of large subdivisions to employ environmentally-friendly conservation design elements are pretty much agreed that county government should own the resulting natural-state open space. They are much less in sync about how to pay for whatever maintenance will be required.

At the third of a series of three 'brainstorming'-type sessions on Oct. 28, representatives of building and engineering firms, conservation organizations and civic associations reached the pivotal issues and found themselves close to consensus on the ownership issue. With no clear favorite among a variety of financing options, it appeared that the sense of the group leans towards combining some.

George Haggerty, assistant general manager of the county Department of Land Use, said the next step will be to have department staff people draft specific language around the several conceptual approaches for achieving stated goals which came out of the meetings and present them for further consideration and possible refinement.

He stressed that the process so far is intended as an exchange of ideas among interested parties prior to producing a draft ordinance. Formal consideration will come through public hearings after an

ordinance is introduced into County Council. As Delaforum previously reported, the department has backed away from what initially was offered as a draft ordinance at separately convened meetings of various interest groups.

What emerged as the most controversial feature in the first approach -- deeding land set aside for preservation to a recognized conservation organization -- evidently has been totally eliminated from consideration. There was only sparse assent when Haggerty sought opinions about whether consultation with one or more environmental groups should be made a required element in the review of subdivision proposals. There was stronger support for hiring a planner with environmental credentials as a full-time member of the department's staff. It now employs an environmental consultant one day a week.

Earlier in the discussion, Marion Stewart, of the Civic League for New Castle County, said the county should both own and maintain the set-aside property. "We have a Special Services Department.

Activities permitted in open space

The Unified Development Code lists these activities as acceptable in land designated as general open space. Some are not allowed if the land is in a flood plain, is forested, on a steep slope or if certain other conditions are present. It has not yet been determined which of these would be permitted in open space protected as a conservation area.
Agricultural Recreational Industrial
Field crops
Fish hatcheries
Game farms
Ball fields
Fishing areas
Golf courses &             driving ranges
Hunting areas*
Natural areas
Nature centers
Picnic areas
Shooting & archery ranges*
Detention and retention basins
Essential access
Land application of treated effluent
Parking lots*
Public and private roads
Sewers, water mains & utilities


Public interest events
Special interest events
*with restrictions

If they aren't capable, then they should develop the capability," she said.

Julie Hammond, of the Committee of 100, a development business trade organization, said that government ownership -- preferably at the county level -- is the only way that the public can exercise control over what is intended as a public resource.

Because it is intended that the protected areas become connected as future development is approved, particularly south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, county ownership "is the only logical way to go," said William Narcowich, of the Civic League.

Haggerty at one point in the discussion said he did not think county government would be amenable to assuming total responsibility for owning and maintaining the conservation areas, but said his role in the process was to gather the various opinions from the group. He conceded that "it's clear the county will have to have some involvement."

Christine Whitehead, of the Civic League, said that whoever ends up with ownership and responsibility should be bound with strong deed restrictions governing future use of the property. "The community has to have some control over how the land is used. We could start out with open space and end up getting something else. The county could come along and put up a library," she said. That evidently was a reference to the use of a portion of Talley-Day Park for a county branch library, offset only because the use of federal money to develop the park required replacement of the land diverted for other use.

The financing issue appeared to come down to a three-point approach -- builders' establishment of an initial endowment with a 'contribution' reflected in the cost of houses in the subdivision, annual maintenance fees collected from residents of the development and general county taxation.

Justification for having property owners throughout the county pay for what appears to benefit specific, and in some instances distant, parts of the county lies in such considerations as improving water quality and supply, protesting wildlife, and other quality-of-life considerations, said Victor Singer, chairman of the Planning Board. "There is something in there for everybody," he said.

Gary Warren, a farmer whose property is in the St. Georges area, cautioned that present property owners who sell land for major developments will be penalized by increasing to half the amount of a subdivision that has to be preserved. Even though the provision would be accompanied by an increase in allowable density and with it the number of residential units that could be built, the value of the land in practice is determined by the net amount of acreage which can be built upon, he said.

On the other hand, the intended ordinance will be a boon to preservation of open space in the area of the county expected to see extensive development over the next 20 to 25 years, said David Carter, of the state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control. "Southern New Castle County is not going to have Du Pont families give us state parks," he said.

2002. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous story: Development ordinance taking shape
Read previous story:
Charles Baker: Conservation ordinance faces broad scrutiny
Read about Conservation Design in suburban development

What is your opinion about the topic of this article?
Click here to express your views.

Return to Delaforum home page