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.