will be further modified
some additional compromises, a third version of proposed
'affordable' housing legislation will put before County Council,
according to Penrose Hollins, primary sponsor of the measure.
He was not specific about how
many changes will be made or what they will involve at either a
meeting of Council's land use committee or several hours later
at a public hearing before the Planning Board. Usually
substitutes are used to modify specific provisions without
altering the basic thrust of proposed legislation.
Discussion and testimony at the
hearing on Dec. 4 indicated that the major point of disagreement
among supporters of the proposal involves how long purchasers of
moderate-priced residences and rental units will be restricted
as to how much re-sale prices will be allowed to escalate. The
current version sets 15 years for residences and 25 years for
The proposed ordinance would add
new provisions to the Unified Development Code establishing an
incentive-based voluntary program looking to increase
availability of new housing in the $170,000 to $268,000 price
range. That is within the reach of potential buyers with
household incomes near or at the county median of $71,600 a
year. The median selling price of new houses currently is around
Charles Baker, general manager of
the Department of Land Use, who said he was speaking for both
his department and on behalf of the Coons administration,
testified that the measure "is part of an overall housing
strategy that comes directly out of the comprehensive
[development] plan that was approved earlier this year."
The 10-year-old development code,
he said, "is not producing normal-price houses for normal-type
people in the county."
president of Leon Weiner Associates, called the code "a huge
impediment in the development of 'affordable' housing." His firm
specializes in developing moderate- and low-priced communities.
A recent project was redevelopment of the former Eastlake public
housing project in northeast Wilmington.
Planning Board member Joseph
Maloney took issue with negative connotations applied to the
development code, which was enacted in December, 1997. "Where do
people come up with the idea the [code] is not working. That is
the most ridiculous thing I've heard," he said.
He said density bonuses --
permitting additional units to be constructed on a given amount
of land -- and tax incentives have worked well in producing
age-restricted housing for persons 55 years of age and older.
Additional density and various fee concessions are the main
incentives in Hollins's ordinance.
Board member Mark Weinberg said
he was uncomfortable with provisions in the measure which would
relax some environmental standards. He also questioned the logic
behind requiring builders of 'affordable' housing to contribute
to an as-yet-to-be-defined housing trust fund while not
requiring contributions from builders of market-priced housing.
Baker said the contributions were in return for "taking
advantage of the bonuses" offered by the legislation.
Hollins said legislation will be
proposed in January or February to establish the trust fund. He
said it will be financed from several public and private
sources. While that will include federal tax-generated funds, it
will not require spending "any New Castle County tax dollars,"
Michael Skipper, a vice president
of W.S.F.S. Bank, testified that the proposed 'affordable'
housing ordinance "is consistent with steps counties and cities
across the country are taking."
Both Vincent D'Anna, of the New
Castle County Board of Realtors, a trade organization of real
estate firms, and Steve Lefebvre, of the Delaware Homebuilders
Association, endorsed the measure.
As in previous discussions about
the proposed ordinance, questions were raised at the public
hearing about its concentration on new housing while much the
existing housing in the re-sale market is priced in the
'affordable' range. Councilwoman Stephanie McClellan, a
supporter of the measure, said "there is no existing housing
stock in southern New Castle County," which is where future
growth will occur. "It would be beneficial to put 'affordable'
housing across the county, including in the more affluent
areas," she said.
The Planning Board held hearings
on three proposed rezonings -- all of which are controversial to
some extent. It was 10 p.m. before it got around to considering
the 'affordable' housing proposal. Only about 25 attenders
remained in the audience and all who testified were affiliated
with a company or organization directly involved in the issue.
Testimony and discussion continued until near midnight.
Only Fritz Griesinger, a civic
activist who spoke on behalf of the Civic League for New Castle
County, testified against the proposal. He called it "a noble
vision," but said New Castle County housing costs are among the
lowest in the middle-Atlantic region while hourly wages are
among the highest in the United States. He questioned why mobile
homes and manufactured housing are not being promoted to
increase the quantity of moderately-priced housing.
After the Planning Board makes a
recommenation, probably later in December, the ordinance will go
to Council for a vote, probably in January.