The Last of the Mohicans
(aka The New Castle County Planning Board)
No, this isn’t a piece on James Fenimore Cooper’s classic American novel. It’s one citizen’s perspective on a public body that is rendering an invaluable service to every resident in New Castle County — The New Castle County Planning Board.
The Planning Board is a 9-member public board, mandated by State law, that’s responsible for reviewing proposed zoning changes, deed restrictions and related land use matters, and making recommendations to County Council. In an environment where many citizens have lost faith in the will of our governmental bodies to protect the public interest, the Planning Board stands out.
The recent hearing on Stoltz’s proposal to rezone 37 acres at Barley Mill Plaza is a perfect case in point. After considering input from over 200 concerned citizens and several major umbrella civic organizations, and weighing this input opposite New Castle County’s own published standards for rezoning, the Board courageously recommended the proposal be DENIED.
What’s perhaps equally instructive, however, is the County Land Use Department’s official recommendation to APPROVE the rezoning. Some direct
-“since a major office complex already exists, the inclusion of a commercial center is a reasonable fit”
-“the proposal is consistent with the variety of zonings & uses that exist along 141 & 48”
-“Commercial Regional zoning will have little to no adverse impact on any adjacent neighborhoods”
Excuse me for asking, but was everyone in the same meeting? Our County Land Use Department people are trained and experienced professionals. Considering this, we’re left to ask whether the conflicts of interest on the part of our County Executive are, perhaps, still alive and well.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen 2 distinguished public servants removed from the Planning Board. In The News Journal’s August 9 article “Clark Ousts Another Board Member”, County Executive Paul Clark is quoted as saying “When you’ve been on these boards for several years, you wind up becoming the professional and not the citizen….”. That’s exactly right, Mr Clark. County land use is complicated, requiring years to gain the understanding, experience and judgement needed to fully contribute.
Citizens depend on our Planning Board members to represent the public interest. We are very thankful for the many invaluable contributions they’ve made to date. As the newest members of the Board assume their duties, we only ask that they consider the disappointing state of our County government and their opportunity to carry on a fine tradition of truly representing all citizens in our County.
Tom Dewson is a lifelong area resident who has recently had the opportunity to see the workings of county government first-hand.