Land Use rolls
revised housing ordinance
clearly unsatisfied, County Councilman Penrose Hollins
reluctantly accepted a greatly revised version of a proposed
'affordable' housing ordinance and said he will formally
introduce it at Council's next plenary session and push hard for
"Close to 400 jurisdictions all
over the country have inclusionary housing [laws]," he said, and
it is not likely that any offer more generous incentives to
developers than New Castle County's will if the measure the
Department of Land Use produced is enacted.
"If they don't make this work, it's because they don't have the desire to make it work."
Department general manager
Charles Baker unveiled the revised version of a proposed
ordinance establishing a 'housing opportunities' program at a
meeting of Council's land use committee. Text highlighting in
the 16-page document indicated that considerably more provisions
had been changed from the original draft than were left
Baker said the revisions came
from comments and suggestions received during "conversations
with different groups" with interests in residential
Hollins, the longest-serving
member of Council and an outspoken advocate for equal
opportunities for a diverse county population, said that he
"compromised significantly" in an effort to win approval for
"one part of a plan that calls for diversifying housing stock."
Several of Hollins's colleagues
spoke in general terms about the issue after Baker's
presentation at the meeting on Nov. 6, but only John Cartier
specifically voiced support for the proposed ordinance. He
referred to it as "a major step in encouraging housing for the
working families in our community."
"People who grew up here, live
here and work here are being left out," Cartier said. "People
are coming from elsewhere to escape high real-estate taxes and
take advantage of our extremely low taxes and developers are
building to that market."
Principal change from the first
version of the ordinance to the new one was to make
participation in the 'housing opportunities' program voluntary.
In the original version, it would be initially voluntary, but
become mandatory for proposed developments of 10 or more housing
units if a total of at least 300 'affordable' housing units were
not in the development-approval process by the end of 2008 and each of four subsequent years.
The revision said only that the department is to recommend
changes in the law, possibly including additional incentives, a
year after the law becomes effective.
Hollins said, however, "if
voluntary [participation] doesn't work, I'll be working as hard
as I can to make it mandatory."
Goal of the program is to have at
least a fifth of new housing units priced between $170,000 and
$268,000. According to the department, the average price of new
residential construction in the county is $400,000 while median
income for a family of four is $71,600. That means a
'typical' family can afford to buy a home priced at about
$220,000. Median means that half of households earn less than
the 'typical' one.
Hollins shared with his
colleagues a graph which showed 20% of the general workforce in
the county earns between 80% and 120% of median income and
another 32% earns between 50% and 80%. The former category
includes people in business and financial operations, computer
and mathematical occupations, and those in architectural and
engineering positions. The latter includes sales and related
jobs, construction workers and educators.
Baker in his presentation to the
committee -- which, like all standing committees, includes all
members of Council -- emphasized that the proposed ordinance
"does not require or encourage public subsidy for those [who]
cannot obtain market financing [or] low-income rental housing in
Hollins expressed the same thing
this way: "We're talking about 'these' people, not 'those'
Baker said the incentives --
which, essentially, are partial exemptions from provisions of
the Universal Development Code -- are aimed at encouraging
building "homes like they (developers) used to build in New
Castle County that the code does not encourage them to build
The incentives, he added, also
are in line with what is deemed necessary to implement the shift
in development patterns envisioned in the five-year
comprehensive plan developed in collaboration with a
cross-section of county residents active in public affairs and
approved by Council earlier this year.
Among the incentives are:
• Allowing a developer to build
half again as many residential units if a fifth of them are to
be priced in the 'affordable' range and twice as many units if a
fifth of them are to be priced below $173,000.
• Reducing the required amount of
open space in a major development from 50% to 35% of the total
• Remaining open-space
requirements could be partly satisfied by dedicating an equal
area for schools, libraries or other public amenities.
• Reducing lot and building-with
and -height standards by 25%.
• Eliminating or reducing various
fees for 'workforce' (a term synonymous with 'affordable')
• More liberal requirements for
landscaping, buffering and stormwater management.
Another key change in the new
version of the proposed ordinance is reducing from 20 to 15
years the length of time after initial sale that future selling
prices must be within an adjusted 'affordable' range. Rental
units would have to remain 'affordable' for 25 years.
'Affordable' housing would have
to be scattered throughout a development, not be easily
recognizable as different from and built concurrently with
'market-priced' units, and use material of similar quality.
The ratio of 'workforce' units
could be met, entirely or in part, by building or rehabilitating
housing units at a location other than the site of the
Prospective purchasers would have
to be certified as income-qualified by the Department of
Under the new version, developers
would still be required to contribute to a housing trust fund,
but the amount would be determined by the value of
'market-priced' units and not set at a flat $1,000 per unit.
Baker estimated that a $960 payment would be required for a unit
which would sell for $400,000.
The ordinance would become
effective immediately upon enactment and apply to any
development plans which had not yet obtained preliminary
approval. Developers could choose to modify approved plans to
bring them under the provisions of the ordinance with subsequent
approval determined on an expedited basis as a minor plan.
Hollins said he will introduce
the revised version of the ordinance on Nov. 13. Under normal
Council procedure it will be referred to the land use department
and the Planning Board for at least one public hearing and a
subsequent recommendation, most likely in December. It would
then come back to Council for a vote, possibly at one of its two
January meetings. The postponed public informational meeting
will be held on Nov. 8, beginning at 7 p.m., in the Gilliam
Building at the county government site in Corporate Commons.
Also to be introduced on Nov. 13
and subject to be immediately approved is a resolution calling
on the department to identify between 10 and 20 parcels
"suitable for rezoning to a [suburban transition] zoning
classification for a developer willing to participate" in either
the hosing opportunities program or a soon-to-be-established
program for transfer of development rights.