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
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
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
Christopher Coons signed into law an
ordinance allowing the use of
electronically controlled variable
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
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
"Being a townhouse doesn't
necessarily mean it's affordable," said Marian Stewart, a
long-time civic activist who testified in opposition to the
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