We have been treated to a political spectacle over the last months with competing ordinances to change redevelopment in New Castle County. To date this has resulted in two recommendations of denial from the Planning Board and a request from that Board that the measures be reconciled. Unfortunately, if Deputy County Attorney Wendy Danner was quoted in the paper this morning accurately, the Land Use Department has no interest in participating in a reconciliation process. I would like to urge my fellow Council Members to follow Planning Board’s recommendation, starting with a serious policy discussion of what we collectively want to see in a final measure. My goal was always to make sure that the measure that eventually passes actually did reform redevelopment in certain key ways. If the right substance is there I can assure you I do not care whose name is listed as the “sponsor.” Therefore, I have to ask my fellow Council members to focus on some key policy areas so our preferences can be made clear, and an ordinance that actually implements our wishes is adopted whether the Land Use Department decides to participate or not. As a constructive part of that process, I have the following comments on 11-020-Sub. 2, and hope that at least 7 of you will agree that this is not what we or our constituents have in mind when it comes to redevelopment reform.
I introduced my own proposed ordinance to revise Article 8 of the UDC regarding redevelopment, Ordinance 11-026, now Substitute 2 (the “Reform Amendment”), because I did not feel that the Reda/Tackett amendment (the “Reda Amendment”) addressed these issues in a way I could support in its previous form. I attach a chart explaining the differences between current law, the Reform Amendment, and both versions of the Reda Amendment. Substitute 1 of the Reda Amendment is an improvement over the ordinance as introduced, but I believe the following specific things would need to be changed to allay my concerns:
Applicability: The Reform Amendment allows no paper redevelopment, no redevelopment of green fields or farms, and redevelopment only where it is needed and infrastructure can handle it. The Reda Amendment still allows substantially vacant lands to be “redeveloped” because it gives a credit for “legally established square footage”, which a grandfathered plan may show, but that alone should not qualify a plan as a redevelopment.
Concurrency: Redeveloped sites must have existing adequate infrastructure, roads particularly. The Reform Amendment still allows breaks on infrastructure improvements for redevelopment plans where the developer will not be putting new strains on the system. The Reda Amendment effectively waives traffic study requirements and infrastructure improvement requirements.
The Reda Amendment misleadingly states DelDOT can ask for a TIS, when in fact the Memorandum of Agreement between DelDOT and New Castle County (the “MOU”) does not subject redevelopment plans to TIS review. Therefore, DelDOT will never ask for a TIS for a redevelopment and this requirement is illusory. The Comparison Chart the Department of Land Use prepared states this is the same as current law, which is similarly flawed.
Outrage over application of the current law, which the Reda Amendment does not improve, has promoted introduction of H.B. 101-Sub 1 in Dover, which requires DelDOT to renegotiate the MOU, a TIS for virtually every plan and for all redevelopments. If we do not reform redevelopment, the State will take this out of our hands.
Process: Designation of redevelopments must be consistent and fair
Under current law and the Reda Amendment, there is NO public hearing or comment on redevelopment site plans unless they qualify as major plans, and many qualify as minor plans by using grandfathered floor area from old plans.
The Reform Amendment merely requires a Planning Department hearing and recommendation on major plans regarding whether they have been properly qualified as redevelopment plans so there is public input and review on that issue. The Land Use Comparison chart states in error this would encourage sprawl, but the public has a right to be heard when it is giving up impact fees and allowing more density with these major plans.
Additional Differences. The Reform Amendment prohibits “redevelopment” of agricultural lands and protects community character from “redevelopments” that are not in keeping with surrounding neighborhoods. The Reda Amendment does not address this issue, which is a real danger as new plans are filed in the future. Current redevelopment law does not mention agricultural lands. This ambiguity led to the litigation in the Stopyra case, which would not have been necessary if the law had been clear. That case did not say agricultural lands could never qualify for redevelopment status, and certainly many agricultural lands have non-conformities and environmental challenges. There is no reason to invite more litigation or gamble on the County’s future this way when we could just clarify the law.
These are the issues I hope we can responsibly and constructively work on together to incorporate into a measure that solves the current problems with redevelopment. This is the hard work we were elected to do and I hope that my fellow Council members will share my interest in an approach that honors Planning Board’s two recommendations on this matter as well as the substantial public input many of us have received to date and heard during the Planning Board Public hearings demanding reform.