In 2018, an “envisioning” process was initiated by New Castle County to consider future plans for the Concord Pike corridor from I-95 to the Pennsylvania line.
Billed as a collaborative effort managed by New Castle County Land Use, DelDOT, WILMAPCO and out of state consultants, the intention was to consider how the corridor might change over the next few decades. In short, it was a planning process that was to also include meaningful community input that could also result in significant zoning, traffic and related changes.
My service in the Delaware General Assembly and numerous community organizations over the years has taught me that while our state and local governments are often well-intentioned, from time to time their efforts get very myopic and insular. Sometimes these plans, brought forth with a “central planning” mindset and a grand scale, where out-of-state consultants are often used. I have found especially that these cases often need to be stopped in their tracks and given full, careful consideration.
Unfortunately, this scenario describes the ongoing “Concord Pike Master Plan” under development by New Castle County, DelDOT and WILMAPCO, which aims to permanently change life in the Rt. 202 corridor. This plan, in the works for almost a year, was unveiled again recently at what was deemed a “public meeting” at Brandywine High School.
The plan envisions a future with a massive influx of multi-story buildings, road changes that would devastate quality of life in some of our communities, and possibly even a future with no Naamans Little League fields. It is full of assumptions about traffic, development and even the way we may live 30 years from now.
At what has become the norm at these meetings, public input is partially muzzled. Following a one-sided presentation, those attending the recent meeting on this proposal were sent to “breakout sessions” to speak one on one with consultants and other planners. The failure to allow true public comment after the presentation prevented the public from hearing what others from various communities along Rt. 202 had to say. Denying residents the opportunity to hear and learn from each other was disappointing and should not happen again.
Many residents I spoke with believe that the outcome of this process is set and that these “public meetings” are simply a dog-and-pony show to allow officials to claim they held public hearings. This is based at least in part on the apparent rejection of public input from the previous meeting in March.
One example of the impact of this proposal involves the communities behind and adjacent to the Talleyville Fire Company, which I represent. The plan proposes to open up Brandywine Boulevard to get cars off of Concord Pike and therefore help the additional development occur. This diversion of traffic through this quiet community would have serious negative impacts on quality of life for residents, not to mention property values. And this is just one example where so-called service or diversionary roads are being considered.
It has also come to my attention in recent days those in charge haven’t spoken to many of the property owners and businesses in the corridor. These are significant proposals for land the government doesn’t own. Effectively ignoring community concerns and property rights is not a planning process that I can support.
All of this has led to great unease in the community, particularly when it comes to by-right redevelopment. Should there be massive changes to the zoning code at the County level as a result of this effort, many fear that our community could be forever changed should one of the major properties in the corridor become available in the future. If something the size of Brandywine Town Center or the Delaware Law School become available for redevelopment following a massive change in the rules for development, the results would change life on the corridor forever. And this would happen without the residents of the area having any say on the particular development.
I am calling on the officials who are responsible for this effort to vastly increase their public input and expand transparency as to the true end goals of this project. I am working with my fellow legislators to hold additional public meetings whereby questions can be presented and answered before this process moves any further.
The Rt. 202 Corridor is our home, and in an era where place and community have never been more critical, it is necessary that the spirit of our community be reflected in any changes that would impact our future.