Saturday, July 29, 2017

Orphanage Property on the brink

This is our latest understanding about the fate of the Orphanage Property.

The Felician Sisters of North America entered into a contract in mid-April to sell the bulk of the Orphanage Property (beyond their affordable housing project) to a new, local developer. They included a provision allowing them to “opt out” of that contract if the county was able to present a fair and workable offer. After two months, and no further response (beyond an offer of appraised value only) from Executive Meyer and New Castle County, that option was allowed to expire in June. The onus is now on the new developer (unknown at this time) to buy the property, which still carries some flexibility to exit the contract if they so choose. A 16 day extension was recently granted, giving the developer additional time to decide whether or not to move forward with the purchase, which would then become irrevocable. That extension will, apparently, run out one day next week.

According to sources in the know, there is a very slight chance on the buyer’s (new developer) side that may allow the “window of opportunity" to re-open. Indeed, the buyer could still back out. As of right now, both buyer and seller have agreed on 90+% of terms. If the final 10% falls through, the County/State would have a chance to step up -- but it would only be successful if Executive Meyer and NCC are serious and ready to put up a fair offer. This would include funds to cover at least half of the project (Chestnut Hill "Preserve) planning costs up to this time.

In the words of Mark Schafale, the Felician Sister's Chief Financial Officer:

I am sorry we were unable to work out an alternative arrangement with the county prior to that expiration. We certainly did everything we could to cooperate with discussions in that direction, but it just did not get done. The sisters believe strongly that God is watching over this process, and that if the park is meant to be, something will emerge to make that happen. But for now, we are awaiting our buyer’s final decision as to whether to move forward with the purchase (which will eventually lead to the building of the other 200 housing units). That is where things stand and we will try to keep you informed as things continue to unfold.

Again, these are the "facts" as we know them. They are derived from multiple sources, including our elected leaders and the Felician Sisters themselves, and are all we have to go on. Barring a miracle, we have forever lost this invaluable opportunity on Executive Meyer's refusal to offer above the appraised value of $5.9M, and the Sister's (and Mr Meyer's) refusal to put the desperate pleas and needs of thousands of real people before maximum financial gain. It's a very sad day for New Castle County, looking at the kind of environment that we (and those claiming the highest of righteousness) are planning to leave for those that come after us.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Remembering Eloy Sandoval-Mateoz

By Angela Connolly -- Three years ago, on July 26, 2014, at approximately 8:30PM, 21-year-old Rahul A. Patel was driving a 2003 Honda Accord at a high rate of speed on westbound Del. 273 (Ogletown Road) and was approaching Ruthar Drive when he lost control of his car. The car traveled off the roadway onto the center median, rotated counter-clockwise and continued into the intersection, where the passenger side hit Eloy Sandoval-Mateoz, 44, of Newark, who was northbound through the intersection on a bicycle and was trying to cross Del. 273. Mr. Sandoval-Mateoz sustained multiple traumatic injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr. Patel was later convicted of driving at a high speed, while under the influence of drugs/alcohol. A handful of bicycling Advocates attended the sentencing for Mr Patel in November, 2015, where we witnessed the Honorable Judge Medinilla order that he be imprisoned be for 18 months without possibility of parole for killing the cyclist. Although additional conditions were set at the time of sentencing, we did not feel that the punishment was fair, as it was revealed at time of sentencing that Mr Patel had prior convictions for speeding and aggressive driving. Sadly, presumably because impoverished family members in Mexico could not attend the proceedings, none of Mr Sandoval-Mateoz's loved ones were there, and so the Judge never had to look into the eyes of the people that he left behind, to see the anguish there. And although we members of the bicycling community were there and would have welcomed the chance to speak for Mr. Sandoval-Mateoz, we were not allowed to. So Her Honor never heard how the loss of this fellow cyclist had affected us, the cycling community, his fellow riders. Mr Sean Lugg, Prosecutor, did a wonderful job representing Mr Sandoval-Mateoz, and during his testimony, he described a much-loved, gentle family man, who was here working hard, and sending his earnings back home to his family in Mexico. A family that now lives not only without their beloved family member, but also with the financial devastation caused by the loss of the earnings that were sent to them.

Eloy Sandoval-Mateoz had the sad distinction of being Delaware's first bicycle fatality of the year 2014. He was born on December 2, 1969. He was 44 years old at the time of his death. There were no funeral services for him here, and his body was sent home to his family in Mexico. Before he was killed, he was what some call an Invisible Cyclist, one of many who dot our landscape, traveling along the busy corridors that take them to their jobs, on their errands, and everywhere they need to go, because they do not use cars. He was from Mexico, and may have been undocumented. I wondered about where he was traveling to, or from, on that terrible night. Because of the hour of the crash, I thought that he was perhaps on his way home, possibly from a job in Newark. Maybe he was weary, and just wanted to get home, to rest. Maybe he was on his way to a night shift, or to meet some friends. We will never know. His body lay at the Coroner's Office for several days before he was even identified, because those closest  to him feared to claim him, as they too were probably undocumented. This set off a sad chain of events, where Eloy's name would soon fade from the news stories. We later learned that he was a husband, a Father, and a Grandfather. Although I did not know Eloy personally, from the description of him, I believe that I had passed him in my travels on my bicycle, on that same road and nearby my home in Ogletown. We would wave at each other. He appeared to use his bike for his primary means of transportation. After this tragedy, I never saw him again.

I am glad that there is a beautiful Ghost Bike at the spot where he tragically died, and I think of him each and every time I pass the site. Some bicycling Advocate friends and I had planned to put up one for him, but someone beat us to it, someone anonymous, and for that I am very grateful. It is beautifully done, in the tradition of the Ghost Bike, and shows that others know that he too was a human being, with family, friends, and a wider community that cared about him. I hope that the motorists who pass it know what it means, and that they think about how their actions behind the wheel can injure and kill others. I hope that every cyclist that passes it, no matter how they dress, or what they ride, will feel empowered, and know that there is a wider community that cares for them, and watches out for them. Because Eloy Sandoval-Mateoz wasn't ever invisible - some just chose not to see him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Confirmed: Alternative 3 for Elkton Road Reconstruction Project

In light of recent comments and 1st State Bikes advocacy, DelDOT has confirmed that the Elkton Road reconstruction/expansion project will be scaled back by nearly 2/3 to reflect actual needs. This number is derived from a reduction in added lanes between Otts Chapel Road and Route 4/896 (Christina Parkway).

Courtesy of Heather Dunigan, Wilmapco
The revision guarantees that only one additional lane will be added on the NE-bound side, to serve as an extended right turn-only lane. The SW-bound direction will maintain two through lanes similar to the existing design as we see it.

Latest excerpts from the Project Manager:
We have indeed moved forward with this change and are currently only proposing a 3rd through lane in the eastbound direction of Elkton Road from Otts Chapel to SR 4.

We are hoping to begin right-of-way acquisitions this Fall with the goal being to go to construction in the Spring of 2019.  Thanks for your interest in the project!


A huge tip of the helmet goes to Mark Tudor of DelDOT, for responding quickly and bringing our comments and concerns before the Project Team. Also Bryan Behrens, Project Manager, for his excellence in transparency and genuine consideration of public comments. Surely, other DelDOT folks contributed as well; a hat tip goes to everyone involved.

Runners and bicyclists are commonplace on Elkton Road between Newark and Maryland.

The view from the handlebars, thanks to Alex Soroka. Interim bike lanes were installed on Elkton Road prior to the latest Pave & Rehab (resurfacing).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

NCC Executive Meyer puts the brakes on STOP

Statement from the Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) Campaign:

We are very sorry to have to tell you that we have lost this epic battle. We have all but exhausted every avenue of approach in trying to bring Ogletown a regional park instead of a destructive and totally unnecessary high density housing development. What we have found is that, no matter how or what we try, it is virtually impossible to win the battle for responsible land use in NCC when government and land developers are thoroughly allied and entrenched. Our campaign to protect the landscape, that included the identification of funding (State and donor), is over after 2 long and exhaustive years. It is a great shame because the property owners and their attorney had indicated their desire to negotiate, and make a deal for parkland instead. This is a tragedy that should not have happened.

In this particular fight, we had a thoroughly proven and documented case for why a regional park would be the superior choice and of greatest benefit to the already underserved residents of Ogletown and S. Newark. There was a few million dollars in NCC park funds available in the budget thanks to former Executive Tom Gordon. Our Legislators put 1.25M in the Bond Bill. A conservancy org had pledged 3/4 million. The Open Space Council pledged a quarter million more. In an offer of generosity, the Felician Sisters had agreed to accept a multi-year buy-out plan from the county/state, meaning that future payments could simply be earmarked in future budgets. This was a one time only opportunity that will never come again. It was a dream offer for NCC, and when something means this much, they make it happen. Not this time, not for Ogletown. Now the dream is dead. With his refusal to budge one dollar above the 5.9 million offer that he made to the Felician Sisters, County Executive Matthew Meyer has condemned this community to the devastating consequences of this massive development project which we now know will take place. Sources told us that although Mr. Meyer did indeed make an offer, it was one that was unreasonable, and designed to fail. Matthew Meyer has decided the future of generations to come. History will remember this, and his legacy will not be one of honor. Remember this when you enter the voting booth upon his re-election.

Where there's a will, there's a way. Instead, County Executive Meyer has turned his back on us. He and NCC lack political will and have put builders and profits over their constituents, quality of life, and the planet. At the County Council Meeting that we attended on July 11, instead of communication, respect, and transparency, we witnessed episodes of hostility and resentment, along with accusations of shady dealing and underhandedness. And from the start of Executive Meyer's term, there were red flags. Ask yourselves how Joseph Setting, the very Developer who just won the Orphanage Property, landed a position as Chairman of Executive Meyer's Parks Transition Team. This was a clear conflict of interest and we may yet investigate how we can make a formal objection.

We at STOP chose to take the high ground during the last few weeks, choosing to trust that Mr. Meyer would do the right thing, and act in the best interests of this community. We refused to participate in demonstrations and protests because we felt that, if there was even a shred of hope left, we could not risk alienating the Felician Sisters by risking disrespect shown to them during a protest. We also were bound to the many organizations that honored us by supporting us, and wanted to conduct ourselves with dignity. We choose to do battle with the keyboard, which we feel is mightier than the sword.

One thing we have learned is the importance of community engagement. Although we are at this moment devastated by Executive Meyer's sabotage, our spirits are not crushed. Although we will soon disable this page, we hope that you will join us here, or at 1stStBikes.org, where we will continue to try a make a difference and connect with our community. Land Use advocacy has left a bitter taste in our mouths, but our concern for our community will continue.

In closing, we urge all of you to consider what has unfolded when entering the voting booth next time. Please, never forget. Please consider this fiasco when voting for candidates for County Council. There is nothing more we can say at this point, except thanks to all of you for your support. We want you to know that we did everything within our power to stop this development from happening. We regret that we did not succeed.


Friday, July 7, 2017

DO: Ogletown park proposal gets state funding commitment

By Lex Wilson, Delaware On-Line -- State money has boosted an effort to create a park on a former orphanage property in Ogletown, an effort to fend off a proposed 269-home development.

Tucked inside legislation that funds state construction projects is a commitment for the state to pay $1.25 million toward the purchase of a portion of the former Our Lady Of Grace Home for Children property.

"It is a huge step forward," said State Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, who sits on the committee responsible for crafting the state's legislation for construction. "The key question at the county level is, are they similarly able to formalize a financial commitment to making this park possibility a reality."

The state's current commitment will only cover a portion of the $5.9 million appraised value of the property. New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said his government is evaluating how much money it can put toward the proposal.

"The state's work done. It is now fully on the county to act," said Angela Connolly, co-founder of a residents' group bent on preserving the property. [Full story ...]

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bike Delaware Quashes Pedestrian Safety Bill

While the push continues to pass the "Bicycle Friendly Delaware Act" (HB-185) that includes legalizing rolling stops for bicyclists, a campaign that began 2.5 years ago to reform Delaware's vehicle code for pedestrian safety has stalled. Known as the "Pedestrian Bill", it is modeled after other progressive States such as WA, MA, OR, etc, bringing it up to date with our built environment. As it stands now, Delaware's language is almost totally car-centric, placing the onus squarely on pedestrians not to get killed. It actually requires a person to be in a crosswalk before a yield is legally required, whereas other States require simple intent to cross as the trigger. In other words, you could stand at the curb waiting for all eternity, because motorists are legally permitted to continue (at speed) through crosswalks unless you physically place your body out there, in harms way.

There are other issues with Delaware's current pedestrian code as well, including an ancient reference to Father's Day that somehow influences the law's enforcement. The whole thing is antiquated, as the State's death and injury rate -- consistently among the highest per-capita in the U.S. -- continues unabated. Meanwhile, the legal system targets pedestrians, holding motorists blameless in virtually every case. Routine patterns such as smart phone use, speeding, and aggressive driving are never cited, though most drivers engage in it. Updating the language would be a monumental step in the right direction, helping to provide a sensible basis for education and enforcement and to give pedestrians the confidence they need to use proper facilities where available.

Where does bicycling fit in? Bicycles are largely unaccounted for and misunderstood on pathway facilities of any kind. For example, if a crash occurs while riding on a parallel (with the road) multi-user pathway (MUP), especially where it enters a crosswalk, there is nothing in the code and no clear legal standards that apply. It will fall on the judge to determine fault, and the odds are overwhelming that he/she will favor the motorist regardless.

Unfortunately, Bike Delaware, the states “advocacy” organization for cyclists and pedestrians, does not support and in fact has opposed efforts to update the pedestrian code. Considering this organization’s lack of support, we need others to step up. At the same time, we should ask why Bike Delaware fails to address the serious changes that are needed for bicycle and pedestrian safety on the very pathways that make up their signature cause. Maybe it's because it is an organization accountable to no one, not even its own donors that include the White Clay Bicycle Club. It claims to fully represent Delaware’s bicycling and pedestrian communities but has no interest in teamwork or consensus, and produces no newsletter or annual report.

The above said, let's all hope that Governor Carney signs HB-185. And let’s hope that all of us can get behind efforts to address the critical issues outlined above.

A brand new 10' wide multi-user pathway (MUP) was recently installed along Rt.4 in Ogletown, just east of Harmony Road. If a crash was to occur in the crosswalk between a bicyclist and a car, the odds are overwhelming that the bicyclist will be cited and the driver held blameless. If you're a pedestrian, you must be in the crosswalk to be legally protected, and bicyclists are not even mentioned. Unfortunately, with a radius right turn, most drivers will be caught off guard by anyone just happening to be there, given the induced high speed.
-- Amy Wilburn, former Chair of the Delaware Bicycle Council, contributed to this article.