December 5,, 2006


Comp plan signals major change
in county's land-use policies

If Council, as is likely, approves the proposed comprehensive development plan substantially unchanged from the recently 'released' draft and, more to the point, supports implementation of the plan, New Castle County is in for a significant change in the way county government manages growth.

The plan stops short of rejecting the suburban dream born a half century ago during the postwar, post-Depression housing boom and most embodied in the landmark Unified Development Code adopted nearly a decade ago. But it does seek to establish a basic policy of concentrating future development in a relatively compact area south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and concentrating on redeveloping existing areas and filling in undeveloped gaps north of the canal.

It calls for getting away from a predominant emphasis on single-family houses on relatively large lots  in favor of greater density -- read townhouses and apartment complexes -- with a greater amount of "housing diversity" -- read weaning builders away from their present almost-exclusive dedication to the upper limits of the price scale.

That, according to the draft. will "meet our future growth needs in a cost-effective, environmentally prudent and infrastructural-efficient manner."

Recognizing that 'widely acceptable' is not going fit neatly into that adjectival litany when specific applications run into the 'nimby' -- not in my backyard -- syndrome, the proposal is careful to emphasize preservation of existing community characteristics. It remains to be seen, of course, the extent to which those concepts are compatible.

The plan acknowledges that "suburban development will continue to be in demand and a preferred way of living for a large percentage of the population." But it said there is no valid reason why that cannot "surround and support the denser mixed-use centers."

It is obvious to most observers that the Coons administration and its Department of Land Use view compliance with state law to update the comprehensive plan every five years to be much more than an exercise to occupy civic groupies. Much of the recommended course of future action already has been charted in such initiatives as the residential rental code, redevelopment ordinances, property maintenance code, problem-properties taskforce and 'hometown' overlay zoning. Support for encouraging 'affordable' housing and establishing a stormwater utility.

Core of the proposed plan is found in 10 objectives it sets forth:

"Accommodate 60% of new development in the existing-community areas, redevelopment areas and incorporated areas of northern New Castle County."

"Accommodate 36% of the new residential development in the new-community development zone in southern New Castle County and southern New Castle County incorporated areas."

"Accommodate 2% of new development within New Castle County in the possible-future-growth zone."

"Accommodate 2% of new development within New Castle County in the resource- and rural-preservation area."

"Create greater densities and housing diversity through development and expansion of mixed-use centers and village-hamlet communities."

"Require the design and uses in each center to complement and enhance those centers and the surrounding community."

"Encourage redevelopment and infill projects that complement and enhance existing neighborhoods and restore older commercial centers as vital components of the community."

"Reduce the number of vacant or under-maintained residential properties in the existing-community area by 15%.

"Acquire permanent preservation easements on 321 acres per year in the possible-future-growth areas and the resource- and rural-preservation areas through transfers of development rights."

"Expand the use of overlay zoning districts to permit flexible options for preserving and enhancing areas within New Castle County that have a unique character (such as Marshallton, Christiana, Yorklyn, Port Penn, etc.) threatened by conventional suburban development."

Read previous Delaforum article: Draft of a comprehensive development plan posted

2006. All rights reserved.