WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Delaware Judge strikes down 2011 rezoning of Barley Mill Plaza

Shortly before the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning in northern New Castle County, and shortly before we received the first reports of uprooted trees and damaged homes in the south Newark/Glasgow area, a sort of judicial twister struck.

In the mother of all recent development battles in New Castle County, a chancery court judge toppled the 2011 rezoning of Barley Mill Plaza.

Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III held the rezoning of 37 acres for retail use was invalid for a curious reason: County Councilman Bob Weiner, a development foe, mistakenly believed the procedural guidelines at the time barred council from getting a traffic study before the vote. And Weiner's vote was pivotal. It gets confusing, but Weiner said he voted in favor of the rezoning, because the alternative was even worse -- an even more gigantic redevelopment. Yet there's some irony that it was Weiner's vote that made the whole thing invalid, that Weiner opposed the plan but voted in favor of it. Did Weiner not fully understand the law or did he cleverly embed a legal landmine with a long fuse? Some of his critics on Council insist on the former. (The judge himself alluded to Weiner's "mistaken understanding of the law".)

Nonetheless, chalk up a great victory for the citizens' group, Save Our County, and a staggering loss for Barley Mill LLC, which comes under Stoltz Real Estate Partners. Yet, reflecting the labyrinth trajectory of this battle, a schism ensued: Another community group, Citizens for Reponsible Growth, reached agreement with Stoltz to shave the size of the project. (CRG still fears a much bigger commercial development, lacking the safeguards in the compromise deal.)

Stoltz paid 94 Million bucks for that parcel of land and will have to decide how to proceed after a five-year battle.
The clock may be reset with a traffic study of the projected impact of such a project.

It's hardly over.

The Barley Mill redevelopment figured prominently in last year's contentious battle for the Democratic nomination for New Castle County Executive. Lest we forget, the Barley Mill Project underscored the perceived conflict-of-interest with County Council President, then County Executive Paul Clark's wife, attorney Pam Scott, representing Stoltz. And the newly-elected Tom Gordon pulled a legal switcheroo when he reversed New Castle County's official position, aligning with Save Our County.

This battle in Greenville / Brandywine Hundred underscores the power of a well-funded citizens' movement against a powerful developer. It also illustrated the staying power of a gentrified, largely upper middle-class community. For a textbook example of what happens when you don't have those advantages, consider the rampant development around Bear.

Posted at 7:33am on June 11, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 8:02am

Not much to say on this one. Next topic, please!

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 9:21am
Is this a great defeat, or can Stoltz just pursue its original plan? It would be an unfortunate irony if the folks who fought this for so long see the larger plan as their consolation prize. Traffic around there will be a nightmare no matter what is built unless there is significant road improvement.

What is really needed is a change in the county's procedures requiring a traffic study of any development of a certain size.

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 8:54pm
I would say any rezoning of Barley Mill Plaza would
be to the discretion of the residents of Greenville
and maybe Centerville. Why should anybody else even care about it?

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 11:28pm
I think the free hand developers had with New Castle County has been curtailed. Looks like communities now have the upper hand, just like they did during the past Gordon administration.

Of course, Mr. Pam Scott, otherwise known as Paul Clark, catered to the developers, shutting out the communities more than less.

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