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January 4, 2006

 

Given for the first time an opportunity to comment on major development proposals at the beginning of the approval process, the public stayed away in droves. Only five people had anything to say about two applications before the county Planning Board

Richard Davis, president of the Bear-Glasgow Council of Civic Organizations, complained that there hadn't been time to come up with any meaningful comments. "You need to look at the time frame and allow umbrella civic associations to meet with the developer ... if you want us to come in and present constructive comments," he said.

The board on Jan. 3 held public hearings on the first applications to be considered since County Council narrowly approved an ordinance in October which did away with so-called '3.319 hearings' for proposed open-space developments while requiring hearings for all major developments during the preliminary-plan stage. Its stated purpose was to provide a mechanism for  public 'input' before a plan was too far along in the process for that to have a significant effect while doing away with the double standard that was considered a disincentive for some projects.

Before the board was a plan by D.M. Peoples Investments to develop a 235-house second section of Mansion House on 190 acres in Pencader Hundred and the first version of the plan for extensive mixed-use redevelopment of the Brookview Apartments complex in Claymont.

Testifying about the Peoples proposal, Davis said it was too involved to consider in the little more than a month which had elapsed between Nov. 29,  the date the preliminary plan was filed with the Department of Land Use, and the hearing on Jan. 3. The public, he said, first learned that the plan was under review in a newspaper advertisement on Dec. 10 and found out  a week later that it was on the board's agenda. The Christmas-New Year holidays then intervened.

Board member Joseph Maloney took issue with Davis, saying that Davis did not appreciate the purpose of the hearing. "We can't seem to be getting through to the public to explain why the hearing is being held," Maloney said. "The board is not going to take a vote [on the plans before it]. We're here to listen to the public's comments."

"Two weeks notice would have given you plenty of time to organize your comments," he added.

The civic council, Davis said, had intended after seeing the initial notice to invite theS developer to its next meeting, which will be held on Jan. 18. As things stand, it has had no contact with the developer.

"We can't require [them] by law, but they make it much easier for developers," board member June MacArtor said referring to informal explanatory sessions.

Peoples lawyer John Tracey said the developer did meet with civic associations in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development, but had not "looked beyond that" to go before the area-wide association. He said the firm had no objection to doing so.

Two residents of the adjoining first section of Mansion House testified generally in favor of the proposal while expressing some concern about the effect the new development will have on the level of service on roads in the area.

The Brookview proposal drew support from Brett Saddler, president of Claymont Renaissance Development Corp., and a renewed request from Mary-Anne Mason, of the Brookview Tenants Council, that that organization be kept involved as the planning process goes forward.

"There are plenty of meetings going on, but we're not welcome at them," Mason said.

William Rhodunda, lawyer for the Commonwealth Group-Setting Properties joint venture, said the developer "is working closely with the county executive" to identify several properties in the Claymont area that would "make other options available to [Brookview] tenants" who are displaced.

Board chairman Victor Singer noted that the plan in its present form is difficult to evaluate. That can't be done, he said,  "until we have a plan with specificity the [development] code requires." Also lacking from the plan is information about the nature and extent of rezoning that it will require.

"What we have now is an exploratory plan proposing a rezoning that is not yet ripe," said land use general manager Charles Baker.

© 2006. All rights reserved.

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Read related Delaforum article: County planners recommend ‘hometown’ status for Brookview
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