Green Delaware Urgent Action Alert #81

(Please post/forward)

Big "Odessa National" sprawl project being shoved into rural Delaware

Developer, New Castle County officials, claim rural areas have no "community character" to be protected

County Council to vote on December 19th-calls, emails needed

Note: This is long. We think the details are important, because, like as in Alert #80 (the Rehoboth hotel loan guarantee), there is a lot to be learned about how the development engine runs. If you don't want the gory details, just skip to the action steps at the end.

Port Penn, Delaware, Dec. 18, 2000. "Lower New Castle County" (Delaware) was long a quiet rural area separated by distance, culture and a canal from Delaware's main city, Wilmington. With the rest of the County filling up, the time has come, in the view of those who run Delaware, for "below the canal" to be sprawled to death in the name of "growth" and "economic development." State and county governments are cooperating to frustrate the opposition of recent and long-time residents. This bollixing of democracy is aided by a few local landowners looking to make their pile, and Chris Roberts, the area's 14-year representative on the New Castle County Council. (Roberts typically supports almost all development proposals, as he did Odessa National, but sometimes backs off and publicly opposes them when opposition surfaces.) The quality of life in the area is decreasing due to congestion and pollution.

County Executive Tom Gordon put through a "Unified Development Code" in 1995. People were told it would control unwise development: The County would approve new projects only when adequate roads, sewers, water, and schools were in place. Air quality would not be compromised. The "character" of existing communities would be respected. Not so: the County has kept on approving projects not meeting these criteria, either granting waivers or claiming the projects were "grandfathered" as "pre-UDC." (County officials blame the State for this grandfathering, State officials say the County has "primary responsibility for land use planning.") Now, "pre-UDC" plans are drying up, and new excuses are needed.

Enter "Odessa National" (ON), a 615 acre project of 761 homes and a golf course east of historic Odessa, Delaware, "below the canal." The promoter is Penn International Land Co. The density is justified partly by the claim that the golf course is "open space." (Golf courses are heavy users of chemicals and contribute to water pollution.). ON would be on two-lane country roads that would have to bear 2,770,650 more vehicle trips per year. The Delaware Department of Transportation (DELDOT) wrote: "Both are two-lane, rural roads with 9 to 10-foot lanes, open drainage, and horizontal and vertical geometry that was established before they were paved or traveled by motor vehicles. Neither road is designed to accommodate the traffic that this project would generate." The schools in the area are already overcrowded. No matter, the developers will eventually pay a school impact fee of $2702/unit. The air in New Castle County is polluted by Federal standards, partly due to skyrocketing traffic. DELDOT wrote: "the County should be aware that one of the goals ... is a ten percent reduction on single-occupant vehicle trips by 2020 [don't laugh yet]. As you know, appropriate land use is essential to the achievement of that goal. This project would build an 18 hole golf course where most players would have to drive to it and it would build 747 [sic] houses where most residents would have to drive to most of their destinations. By allowing such a project, the County would move us further from, not closer to, that ten percent reduction.... this project would generate about 7000 vehicle trips per weekday ....." Nevertheless, in a July 19, 2000 memo, David DuPlessis of DELDOT wrote the county: "The Preliminary plans developed in conjunction with this plan are in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Transportation and are compatible with highway improvements in the planning and design phase." (The intent of this is not what it seems: DELDOT people told us they could write such a letter even if there was NO road upgrading planned and they knew the congestion would be overwhelming, because "there would be nothing for the development to be incompatible with.") No matter the Federal Environmental Protection Agency will cave, as it always has in the past. What about the worsening of Delaware's already terrible public health problems, partly caused by air pollution? No matter: profitable health care facilities will spring up in the area. What about "community character?" No matter: The county land use department and the Planning Board of Gordon-appointed citizens agree that the area doesn't HAVE any community character. Vic Singer, Chair of the Planning Board and long-time activist with the Civic League for New Castle County, told Green Delaware: "[the project site] is a farm ... a farm is not a community." The area has been inhabited for thousands of years and was one of the first parts of Delaware to be settled by Europeans-whoejected the Native American inhabitants. No matter: The county Recommendation Report approvingly cites the applicant's claims that "Since this area is only beginning to develop, ... the Odessa National plan is essentially creating the character of this area ..." Part of the character to be created is this: "The Department is working with the developer to utilize the golf course as a spray field site [for sewage disposal]."

ON is opposed by the Southern New Castle County Alliance and it's 20 member civic associations, by the 7 & 40 Alliance, by Rep. Dick Cathcart, who represents the area in the Delaware General Assembly, and by Green Delaware. Councilman Roberts, who voted for the preliminary plan, now says he's against it. Senator James Vaughn, who represents the area, hasn't been heard from. Cathcart has written to DELDOT twice asking that it's approval be withdrawn. On November 15th he wrote to Secy. of Trans Ann Canby that "New Castle County's decision on whether this project goes or doesn't go is extremely critical. It will ultimately determine how sprawl in southern New Castle County advances. ... You have a unique opportunity to slow this process down by withdrawing the letter of No Objections. This will provide us with the time to re-evaluate how this project was originally approved. It will allow us time to perhaps remove the widespread suspicion of why certain high-ranking County and State officials are interested in fast tracking the approval of this project." Asked why he thought the county was pushing Odessa National, Southern Alliance president Chuck Mulholland noted that the county could ultimately expect to receive a substantial amount in real estate transfer taxes and impact fees from Odessa National transactions.

Because of the precedent-setting sellout of state officials, this project should worry everyone in Delaware. The County Council will consider ON at a Land Use Committee meeting at 5:00 PM on December 19th, and the entire Council is to vote on final approval at their 7:30 meeting. (Louis Redding Building, French Street, Wilmington) Council members can be expected to claim that, because they approved the preliminary plan, they now have no choice but to vote for final approval. Not, true: ample justification exists to table the plan for further consideration.


Gov. Tom Carper:

Home (listed number) 302.764.7478, Dover office: 302.739.4101,

Wilmington office: 302. 577.3210, FAX: 302.577.3118,

Gov.-Elect Ruth Ann Minner:

Dover office: 302.739.1330, Wilmington office: 302.577.3210,

FAX: 302.739.1334,,

Ask Minner and Carper to have DELDOT withdraw it's "non objection" to Odessa National.

Brad Campbell, Administrator of EPA Region III. 800-438-2474,

Ask that EPA enforce the Clean Air Act by finding a "conformity lapse" in Delaware.

Tom Gordon, New Castle County Executive. 302.395.5102, FAX 302.395.5268,

Ask Gordon to oppose Odessa National.

the County Council members, and Council President-elect Chris Coons:

Stephanie L. Hansen (President), (302) 571-7808,

J. Robert Woods (Dist #1), office: (302) 571-7529, home: (302) 655-8264

Robert S. Weiner (Dist #2), office: (302) 571-7536, home: (302) 477-9876, Weiner chairs the Land Use Committee

Richard L. Abbott, Esq.(Dist #3), office: (302) 571-7534, home: (302) 655-9550,

Penrose Hollins (Dist #4), office: (302) 571-7525, home: (302) 764-9474,

Karen Venezky (Dist #5), office: (302) 571-7537, home: (302) 366-0155

J. Christopher Roberts, office: (302) 571-7526, home: (302) 378-7644,

Chris Coons, office: (302)292-4010, home: (302)427-3690,

Ask them to table the Odessa National proposal on December 19th, and find a way to reject it permanently.

If you can, attend the Land Use Committee meeting and/or the Council meeting and speak against Odessa National.

Let us know what you think. 

Email us at

or contact
Alan J. Muller, Exec. Director
P.O. Box 69
Port Penn, DE 19731
302-834-3466 Voice
302-836-3005 FAX

Let us know what you think. 

Email us at

or contact
Alan J. Muller, Exec. Director
P.O. Box 69
Port Penn, DE 19731
302-834-3466 Voice
302-836-3005 FAX

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This page was last updated on November 29th, 2000.