Pilot School site
headed to County Council
Place, a proposed
147-unit age-restricted residential development in western
Brandywine Hundred, emerged as a sort of test case for the
veracity of the comprehensive development plan, applicability of
a key provision of the Unified Development Code and the
integrity of the land use approval process.
presentation before County Council's land use committee on Feb.
2, the project was variously described as a good illustration of
the kind of 'smart growth' deemed a preferable alternative to
'suburban sprawl' and a serious threat to the style of life
residents of the state's northernmost hundred cherish.
When Council next meets
in plenary session on Feb. 9, it is scheduled to vote on a
proposed ordinance to rezone the 15-acre Pilot School property
on Garden-of-Eden Road, near Concord Pike, to permit Reybold
Group to redevelop the site to include 17 single-family houses,
50 townhouses and 80 condominium apartments in two four-story
buildings. The project has been vehemently opposed, primarily by
residents of neighboring Tavistock and Edenridge, who have
mounted a concerted effort to block it or, at least,
considerably scale it back.
If normal procedure is
followed, Councilman Robert Weiner, who previously has voiced
opposition to the project, will control whether a vote is taken
or the measure is tabled. He represents the area and as such is
sponsor of the proposed ordinance. At the end of the committee
meeting, he said he intended to study the points raised by both
sides, but added the opponents "still have questions [and] I,
too, have questions."
Although president Paul
Clark and other members of Council praised the objectors for
their diligence and thoroughness in preparing and presenting
their case, it appeared that a majority of the 12 members who
attended the meeting were inclined to support the Department of
Land Use's recommendation that rezoning be granted. All 13
members of Council are also members of all of its standing
committees. William Tansey had an excused absence.
If rezoning is granted,
Reybold Group will still have to proceed to approval of a record
plan. In that phase of the approval process, when the department
certifies that the plan meets all the standards of the
development code Council is required to give final approval. It
can send the plan back to the department for further
clarification only a limited number of times.
"The plan will be 100%
code-compliant when [the approval process] is completed," David
Culver, department general manager said.
"This isn't a bad
plan," Clark said. "It meets all the requirements we've set up
for redevelopment. ... The alternative is leapfrogging down the
road to a green field and tearing it up."
Just the contrary is
key argument the objectors make. They are opposed to allowing
the increased density that proceeding under the redevelopment
provisions of the development code allows.
"Pilot School is
unquestionably a fully-functioning fully-utilized [sic]
property. As such the Columbia Place plan is not entitled to
redevelopment status under the [code]. ... Land Use [Department]
isn't protecting us from out-of-control development," Daniel
"This is spot zoning.
The parcel is small. It has been singled out for special
treatment," he added.
"Our community does not
oppose development of the Pilot School site. What we oppose is
the over-development of the site," Meg Campbell said.
redevelopment bonus for a residential site ... sets a troubling
precedent," Chuck Landry, land use chairman of the Council of
Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred, said. "Every site in
New Castle County with a structure on it can be considered as a
The Pilot School site
should appropriately be "designated for medium-density
development," he said.
Culver, however, said
that it was never intended that the redevelopment provisions in
the code be limited to abandoned or deteriorated properties. He
said 69 plans have been offered so far under those provisions
and "many of those sites are very viable." Moreover, he added,
the same amount of added density could have been obtained if
Reybold Group had sought approval under other provisions, such
as age-restricted or 'workforce' housing, in the code.
"This plan meets the
core intent of the redevelopment ordinance," Councilman George
Smiley said. He added that it would not make sense to allow a
property to deteriorate so redevelopment provisions could kick
in. "You don't let the value go down before you start to improve
it," he said.
Added density is a tool
provided as an incentive to achieve the kind of "walkable,
transit-oriented" development envisioned by the comprehensive
plan, Lisa Goodman, Reybold Group's lawyer, testified. "This
plan is a poster child for that wording to come to fruition,"
she said. It's intent, she added, is to "take an old site and
make it better than it was."
She said the density of
the proposed complex is 9.7dwelling units to the acre, with
41.5% of the site to be dedicated as open space. That, she
added, is slightly more than half the 18.5 units-per-acre
approved for the Darley Green complex in Claymont "which
Councilman Weiner was a great champion of."
the opposition to Columbia Place as basing its position on
'misinformation'. She cited several claims in a recent newspaper
advertisement as "simply untrue."
Hollins disputed Mulveny's claim that "there is no public
support" for the project. Council members "have received
numerous comments and e-mails in support," Hollins said. Peggy
Schultz, of the League of Women Voters, expressed unqualified
support in testimony at the meeting.
Culver said that
virtually every plan that comes to the department generates
opposition, even at the opposite end of the density spectrum.
"We had just as much opposition from the neighborhood to schools
being torn down for sports fields," he said.
The general manager
also disputed a claim that the Planning Board stood in
opposition. That body voted four-to-three with one member
abstaining to concur with the land use department's favorable
recommendation. Because its by-laws require five votes for a
recommendation the board officially submitted no recommendation,
but a summary its discussion was filed with Council. Culver said
the board "after a lengthy debate had a feeling of approval."
He denied that the
department tended, more often than not, to approve development
plans. However, he said, plans that are disapproved rarely get
to Council and, thereby, into public view.
Asked by Councilman
Bill Bell if he felt the Columbia Place plan was in keeping with
the character of the surrounding area, Culver replied, "The
development is consistent with the neighboring community. ... We
found it will have no adverse effect."