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October25, 2005


For the second time in as many sessions, County Council registered a rare almost-down-the-middle seven-to-six vote, scrapping the requirement that so-called cluster residential development plans go before Council for a special hearing and approval

Under the enacted  ordinance, all future major residential development proposals will be subject  to a Planning Board public hearing at the start of the subdivision approval process, but will not be put to a Council vote to determine whether they may go forward.

Proponents say that will remove expensive uncertainty from the process and thereby encourage developers to make more use of open-space options. As a result, that will, at least to some extent, foster the building of a greater  amount of  'affordable housing'.

Objectors maintain, however, that it will take away the ability of people in existing communities to have an effective voice, through their elected representatives, in land-use decisions which could adversely affect the

'character' of their neighborhoods.

In a white paper distributed to Council members before their vote at the session on Oct. 25, president Paul Cark, who sponsored the ordinance, said that, in the four-and-a-half years that 'cluster' and open space development was allowed without recourse to the special provision, 20 such plans were approved. Since enactment of the

Other close measure signed

County Executive Christopher Coons signed into law an ordinance allowing the use of electronically controlled variable message signs.

That measure was enacted by County Council by a seven-to-six vote on Oct. 11.

Unified Development Code with a section requiring the additional step, six were. "In almost twice the amount of time, only approximately one-fourth [of such plans] ... were recorded after the intermediate council hearing was required," the statement said.

Lisa Goodman, a lawyer with the firm of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, who said she makes her living representing developers, testified that "adding risk at the end of the [approval] process ... is too much risk" for most of her clients to take.

"I'm not willing to give up the right to vote on behalf of the people of New Castle County," Councilman William Bell said. "I don't see anything in [Clark's] document that I can go back to my constituents and say this opens the door to 'affordable housing'," Councilman Jea Street added.

"When certain people don't like what the public is saying in open forum, they take away the forum," Alan Muller, of Green Delaware, an environmental interests organization, testified. Martha Dennison, of the Civic League for New Castle County, said that organization thinks the issue should be addressed in the county's comprehensive plan, which is being updated.

Clark, John Cartier, Joseph Reda, Timothy Sheldon, George Smiley, William Tansey and Robert Weiner voted in favor of the ordinance. Bell, Street, Penrose Hollins, Patty Powell, David Tackett and Karen Venezky were opposed.

Observers expect County Executive Christopher Coons, who is supportive of providing 'affordable housing', to sign the measure into law.

The additional hearing has been referred to as a '3.319 hearing', so named for the section of the development code which requires it.

Weiner, who co-sponsored the ordinance with Clark, said that requiring an additional  hearing for only one kind of development was "economic elitism at its worst" and a subterfuge for preventing the "bringing of the wrong kind of people [into a] community."

The townhouse has been singled out as the culprit in such an effort. Joseph Maloney, a long-time member of the Planning Board, testified that proposed plans "have little opportunity [for approval] if townhouses are included." He added that that amounted to "class prejudice."

"Being a townhouse doesn't necessarily mean it's affordable," said Marian Stewart, a long-time civic activist who testified in opposition to the ordinance.

Cartier, who has said he is going to mount a concerted effort to obtain more 'inclusive housing' in the county, said the ordinance is a first step in that direction.

Tackett argued, however, that prevailing conditions in the real estate market mitigate against such an effect. "Until houses sit vacant, 'affordable housing' is not going to go in this county," he said.

© 2005. All rights reserved.


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Read previous Delaforuim article: Council urged to zero in on providing for ‘affordable’ housing
Read previous Delaforuim article: Electronic variable message signs approved

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