Delaware Wilmington

New Development in Wilmington Does Not Need NPC Approvals

One of the things that multiple parties in Wilmington are trying to promote is additional development in the City.  Or at least, in some parts of the city.  It is fair to argue about how much additional development Wilmington needs and what its character should be.  Certainly the right development can revitalize communities and business corridors and stupid development will make a developer happy but leave a neighborhood in tatters.  The developer community has a ritual chant about how the city’s regulations are killing them, but many of these guys are still regulars at spendy restaurants in town.  So they aren’t not feeding their kids here.  And have you ever noticed how they never say what regulations are a problem?

Which brings us to the latest effort by Councilman Sam Guy to regulate a thing that doesn’t need regulation.  He would propose a law that would require a developer of a project worth more than $250K to get approval of the Neighborhood Planning Council where that project would reside.  Now this sounds fairly reasonable, until you know how the NPCs are organized.  There is one NPC per Councilmanic District and each of the official neighborhood organizations in that District get representation here.

So if a developer wants to do a project in my neighborhood of Quaker Hill, he would need approval from the 5th NPC to move forward.  The 5th includes Cool Springs, Hilltop and others.  Since decisions about these developments are about neighborhood quality of life and property values, I’m not sure why folks from Cool Springs (not to pick on you guys) should have a vote on a project that impacts me and my neighbors.  I’d bet they don’t want me to weigh in on their decisions, either.  I can’t tell what the limitations on this are beyond the dollar threshold.  What if Delmarva wants to renovate a substation, or CSX wants to rehab a bridge?

What happens if a development spans multiple Council Districts?

Right now, if you live in a neighborhood with a Historic Overlay, you will hear from developers because they need community support to get their projects approved by the Design Review Commission.  If the project needs a Zoning Variance, you will hear from that developer because they will need neighbor support.  And these developers will come to the affected neighborhood association(s) to ask for that support — not the NPC.

A smart developer will come to the neighborhood association to discuss their plans and to try to get support.  That smart developer will try to work through objections and issues up front.  The stupid developer will do the bull in a china shop approach and an organized neighborhood can put a big dent in those plans.

I don’t mind asking developers to make sure they meet with the local neighborhood association and even put that on the Permitting Checklist.  But asking Neighborhood Planning Councils to formally approve is one of the fastest ways to kill off NPCs which are in serious need of revitalization.  Because approvals will divide these Councils since they cannot as a body speak for the needs of specific neighborhoods.

NPC approval of larger developments is unnecessary, I think and an unneeded bit of bureaucracy.  Developers should be encouraged to do the work to get the local neighborhood to be enthusiastic partners of their effort.  And if they don’t, the neighbors should use every means at their disposal to  get that developer’s attention.  It strikes me that City Council should be focused on helping developers and neighbors to form productive partnerships where possible and where not possible, ensure that developers are accountable.  Which is work they can do now without Councilman Guy’s misguided law.

7 comments on “New Development in Wilmington Does Not Need NPC Approvals

  1. Developers already know which city neighborhoods they must visit. Guy’s proposed law seems to be a way for developers to skip over certain neighborhoods/neighborhood associations to get approval. What we’d end up with is… NPC approvals would be the green light for developers in certain (poorer?) neighborhoods while developers would continue to ask permission from other (wealthier) neighborhoods.

    NPC reminds me a bit of school board elections where the entire school district gets to vote on every candidate. It lessens the voices of communities most affected, by not allowing them to choose who best represents their needs.

    • HyperbolicDem

      “NPC reminds me a bit of school board elections where the entire school district gets to vote on every candidate. It lessens the voices of communities most affected, by not allowing them to choose who best represents their needs.”

      100%. It also creates mini-fiefdoms where cronies have political power which funnels upward to the official who appointed them.

    • This proposal does dilute the voices of individual neighborhoods and it does create a powerbase for the NPC and whoever can get their friends there. This will also stratify the decision-making process as well — who thinks that the people over by Rockwood Park are going to pay any attention to what the NPC approves or not? But neighborhoods like the Hilltop will just be pushed around by the other neighborhoods around it.

  2. HyperbolicDem

    This is a practice that can go terribly wrong. These NPC’s get loaded with cronies and often times, make decisions based on what they can get for themselves, or their particular neighborhood. There is a common practice in which the the developer gives perks to surrounding neighbors for their approval. Some are as benign as ensuring buffer plantings, or fencing. However, sometimes, it is more blatant, like landscaping for neighboring homeowners, repairing driveways and sidewalks, or even fixing up nearby homes.

    While there is a need for community buy-in and input on development, the best way to ensure it is done correctly and in keeping with the character of the neighborhood is to have good and fair land use codes. If the codes are clear and unambiguous, then there is no need for added layers of bureaucracy. They are only needed if what you really want is a pipeline for political favors and extra avenues of power for officials. This, knowing the author of the legislation, seems the more likely reason for the creation of NPC’s in Wilmington.

    • Yes. It seems to set up a Developer Hunger Games where it is possible to lobby unaffected neighborhoods to vote against the interests of the affected neighborhood. Solid building codes is a good point Setting up NPCs as a regulatory authority with no connection to building codes or any other governing regulation to city development seems especially fatal.

  3. Paul Calistro

    First of all I would argue that a number of NPC’s are no longer functioning. In addition, often those that are functioning have very little community turnout at their meetings.
    You run the risk that one or two people can stop or accelerate a development. Currently,there is very little development happening in Wilmington In comparison to other cities and New Castle County. Today you just don’t see much investment in our city. The majority of development that is taking place in our neighborhoods is affordable housing conducted by non profits. It would be great to see some private reinvestment in our neighborhoods. I just don’t understand how this proposal attracts reinvestment in our communities.

    • I suspect that NPCs are no longer functioning because I don’t see that they have a clear role or reason to exist anymore. It is worthwhile to revitalize the NPCs, but putting them in the position to interfere with development doesn’t make much sense, I agree with you.

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