to ward off
parent-offspring confrontations go, this one was mild. But it
appeared that the kid not only had made his point but had won
Its housing and
community affairs committee, on a voice vote, cleared proposed
legislation to impose a six-month moratorium on filing any new
residential development plans under New Castle County's
'workforce housing' ordinance for action by the full state House
However, eight of
the committee's 10 members recommended against its passage and
one took a neutral position, recommending that it be considered
"on its merits." At the conclusion of a two-hour committee
hearing on Jan. 21, it was obvious that the moratorium would
most likely be figuratively dead-on-arrival if it made it to the
House floor at all.
Jaques, the measure's sponsor, adamantly refused two requests by
committee members to allow an amendment that would cut the
length of the moratorium, but did not indicate whether he would
pursue the matter further. Sponsors often decide not to bring
legislation to a vote if they do not have sufficient support to
have it enacted. Jaques, a first-term legislator, is not a
member of the housing committee.
At the hearing the
issue quickly rose beyond objections by some residents of
southern New Castle County and their legislators that a
significant increase in the number of houses on a given tract
that the county ordinance allows in exchange for voluntarily
including 10% to 20% of moderately-priced units in a residential
development would overburden area roads and public schools.
previously reported, county government officials regard the
proposed state legislation as an improper intrusion into their
jurisdiction over zoning and land-use regulation. Legally,
county government is a creature of state government. Moreover,
state law trumps county law just as federal law trumps state and
Testifying before the committee, County
Executive Christopher Coons said he was willing to regard the
proposed moratorium as a good-faith effort to allow the General
Assembly time to enact legislation to more closely tie adequate
road and school capacities to approval of residential
development plans. Presently, the county Department of Land Use
is specifically prohibited by state law from considering school
capacity as a condition for plan approval and is required to
abide by a no-objection response from Delaware Department of
however, that many supporters of the workforce-housing ordinance
consider the roads-and-schools argument to be a thinly veiled
effort to block inclusion of moderately-priced housing in new
neighborhoods near existing upscale ones. County Councilman
Penrose Hollins, the original sponsor of the county ordinance,
has said that some opponents seek to preserve economic and
"If your goal is to
stop 'workforce housing', why don't you just say [that] and do
it," Coons told the committee.
Jaques and several
members of the public who testified at the hearing insisted that
they were not opposed to 'workforce housing'. The term is
considered less onerous than 'affordable housing', which is
believed to imply government- subsidized and other low-income
housing. Committee chairman Gerald Brady cut off several
testifiers who strayed into discussing merits of 'workforce
housing' instead of limiting their remarks to the moratorium
Richard Cathcart, who supports a moratorium but is not a member
of the housing committee, said he was "insulted" by implications
of ulterior motives. "This has nothing to do with 'workforce
housing'," he said. "I have yet to hear one constituent or
anyone else say one word other than what has been said here."
Rebecca Walker, a
member of the public, testified that the only purpose of a
moratorium is "to buy time to deal with the [capacity] issues."
the position that has been taken by his administration in
defining 'workforce housing' as meaning "mak[ing] sure that
people who work in New Castle County can afford to live in New
He did acknowledge
that the ordinance "has had some unintentional and undesirable
consequences." He did not specify what they were, but said
county government "welcomes the opportunity to work with you" to
rectify them. That can be done, he said, while the county is
considering development plans and accomplished before the plans
Some of its shortcomings will be
remedied, he said, by an amending ordinance which Hollins is
sponsoring and which has been scheduled to be brought before
County Council at its plenary session on Jan. 27. Hollins,
however, has said he is not sure whether he will seek a vote
then or leave the measure tabled. With the now-probable
sidetracking of the moratorium legislation, it seems likely that
Hollins's ordinance will go before Council and most probably be
enacted. Hollins did not attend the House committee hearing.
Coons said that a state
moratorium would not only affect 'workforce housing' but also
would "set a precedent for how we deal with land-use
Representative Bryon Short agreed
with Coons, adding that "if the state wants to take on zoning
issues we should take on the entire [land-use function]."
Council in December enacted its
own moratorium, which will expire on Jan. 31 or with the passage
of amending legislation. County Councilman William Powers, who
represents a southern Council district and has voiced
roads-and-schools arguments of his constituents, told the
committee that Council's procedures would not allow for him to
bring forward legislation extending the county moratorium sooner
than two months after its expiration.
which he and Councilman William Bell sponsored "was just to take
care of the county side" and a state moratorium is necessary "to
provide time for the state side," Powers testified. "There are a
lot of problems that need to be worked out by [both] the state
Lavelle said that, even if a state moratorium were enacted, it
would be an idle gesture. "We're just kidding ourselves if we
think we're going to solve [the] roads and schools [issues] in
six months," he said.
either level would not apply to the 17 plans filed under the
'workforce housing' ordinance that are now making their way
through early stages of the land-use approval process. Fifteen
are in the exploratory phase and two are preliminary. It
typically takes 18 months to two years to get a plan approved.
administration was able to get Jaques to agree to an amendment
to the original moratorium measure which specifies that it does
not bar new filings of development plans which do not include
Jaques also is
sponsoring pending legislation that would increase the voluntary
impact fees developers pay to help defray the cost of providing
school facilities to accurately reflect current construction
costs. Jaques told the hearing that the 17 pending 'workforce
housing' development plans would provide housing for families
with a combined total of "a little over 5,900 children." That,
he said would require 10 new schools which would cost a total of
president of the Appoquinimink school board, said that those
fees "do not begin to cover" the cost of school construction.
The fees are not paid until a development plan is approved and
recorded. Houses would be occupied long before a new school
could be built.
Coons said that is
not a realistic supposition. Moreover, he added, "these plans
will not be producing houses for many years."
Viola suggested that the county "gave away too much [additional]
density to get a small amount of 'workforce housing'."
testifying on behalf of the Committee of 100, a developers'
organization, said "traditional neighborhoods were outlawed"
when the county's Unified Development Code was enacted 11 years
ago. Even with its 'workforce housing' provision, "neighborhood
after neighborhood in desirable Brandywine Hundred could not be
built today [anywhere] in New Castle County," she said.