Thursday, October 17, 2019

In matters of transparency, Bike Delaware is a joke

It's critical that donors to a non-profit know exactly
where and what their money is going toward.
"Secrecy is one of the shadier sides of private and public life"  ~Ian Hacking

Bike Delaware falls far short compared to other similar orgs when it comes to the activities they are engaged in, particularly those of their Exec Director who has been confirmed as a lobbyist for land-use matters (favoring developers) at the County level. It appears that their startup documents and a Form-990EZ is Bike Delaware's only known record-keeping and reporting.

To learn how an advocacy organization should go about its business, click on the images below from neighboring Bike Maryland, which takes matters of transparency very seriously. On their home page, note the newsletter subscription, as well as an up to date blog of current events and action alerts. Their website is also fully searchable, so folks can readily investigate what the organization is up to and grab at opportunities to get involved at every level.

Other Neighbors (in pdf format):
Bike Pittsburgh 2017 Annual Report and Strategic Plan 2016-2019.
Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia Annual Report FY2018.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Ogletown Road and the Folly of Bike Delaware

Forced to ride in the lane during sidewalk rehab activities on Ogletown Road, between the Newark Post Office
and Marrows Rd. The high speed lane or a 5' sidewalk will continue as the only options along this stretch. 

It's hard not to laugh when reading Bike Delaware's pages, adorned with slogans such as:

"Making cycling and walking safe, convenient, and fun in Delaware"

"OUR MISSION: Bike Delaware advocates for safe, convenient and fun cycling and walking for everyone"
"Bike Delaware’s organizational mission is to make cycling and walking safe, convenient and fun transportation options in Delaware"

"Our vision is bikeway networks that everyone can use to get where they want to go on a bike"

To anyone paying attention, it's only made "safe, convenient and fun" when it brings high profile attention to Bike Delaware, or if you happen to live in one of the State's few privileged locales or regions. Otherwise, you're SOL.

The photo at top was taken on Oct 5, 2019 on Ogletown Rd/SR273, between Marrows Rd and Library Ave in Newark. Bicyclists who are trying to access the Post Office are completely disenfranchised. The only access available to them is the high speed traffic lanes or a 5' sidewalk directly adjacent, with narrow twisting curb ramps. Access from behind the P.O., perhaps via College Square, is completely fenced off.

The Marrows Rd to Library Ave/SR72 phase of Newark's "Main Street Improvements" project is now underway. Ironic that nobody -- not even Wilmapco made a strong case (if any) that bicyclists cannot safely access this critical service, as well as other buildings along this stretch. But most ironic was the absence of Bike Delaware, that they didn't care to address this gross deficiency with DelDOT during the planning of this project or at any time before construction began. Here was a prime opportunity to include bicycle access in the form of, e.g. an 8' asphalt sidepath or shared use facility instead of the lane with cars or a narrow sidewalk. Yet nobody even publicized the project notification for this critical phase. Wilmapco was content to leave it in their Newark Bicycle Plan as something for "future study". It will now be 15-20 more years before another rehab/reconstruction opportunity might present itself.

A recently repaved section of sidepath along Library Ave in Newark. At 6'
wide, it fails all known engineering criteria for a bi-directional bikeway facility,
and qualifies as just a sidewalk.
Of course, none of this comes as any surprise. Similar projects are going on around Delaware that present clear opportunities for dedicated bike (and ped, shared) infrastructure, adjacent to or outside the lanes of traffic. Of crucial importance is when there is no shoulder or bike lane on a given road, and access can only be had by taking and controlling the lane of traffic -- often times at freeway speeds. Another example is SR72 in Newark and further south -- aka S. Chapel Street -- that many bicyclists use as a bike path connection between S. Newark, Bear, and points south. Advocates fought for 17 long years to upgrade the deteriorated 6' of asphalt sidepath to a more formal 8' shared use or "cycle track" facility. DelDOT finally agreed to "rehab" the existing facility using the same failed design standards used in the 1980s when it was first built.

Conclusion: For the disenfranchised and "unwashed" that populate the vastness of Delaware's suburban landscape, you'll be hard pressed to find anything positive going on for bicycling and pedestrian advocacy where you live. Bike Delaware appears a fraud, a fake organization that pretends to care about bike-ped safety for all of us, but whose real mission it is to fast track high density development projects and profits to their corporate masters. This comes at the expense of key infrastructure safety and improvements in the built environment, never mind the loss of our last remaining wildlife, forests, fields, wetlands, and parkland opportunities. Bike Delaware does little or nothing at all to bring attention to individual DelDOT projects and workshops -- even when absolutely critical and presenting a one time-ever opportunity for making key connections. They are a virtual no-show in person and on their website when it comes to -- at the very least -- rallying Delaware bicyclists to the very projects that could possibly make their bicycling "safer" and more "convenient".

Sunday, September 29, 2019

What kind of "Non-Profit" is the White Clay Bicycle Club?

The White Clay Bicycle Club does not appear
in any search of the IRS Non-Profits database.
What kind of "non-profit" is the White Clay Bicycle Club? Virtually everyone you ask -- including past Board members -- believe it is a 501(c)3. However, the organization does not appear on any search of the IRS non-profits database, using the simple keywords "White Clay". Six other orgs do appear, however (see image on right).

Assuming WCBC is missing in the results somehow, and it is indeed a 501(c)3 or (c)7 or other 501-type, is it appropriate for them to donate relatively large sums of member dues and event fee monies to another 501(c)3 that does not follow the recommended rules of transparency? The recipient org, Bike Delaware is a confirmed 501(c)3, but has:

  • No annual report
  • No periodic newsletter of any kind
  • No annual meeting with minutes and election results
  • No search feature on their website to search out these items or topics of interest
  • No posted meeting minutes
  • No lobbying records or reports at the county and regional level, much (if not most) of which centers around land use

WCBC's main source of revenue is membership dues and event fees; probably half or more is sourced from non-members participating in their recreational cycling events that are open to all. Is it legal and appropriate that non-members (and members alike) are helping fund activities that they may not approve of, in this case lobbying for developer and builder interests at the expense of parks, green space, and retrofitting the built environment for multi-modal transportation?

John Haupt, President of WCBC, gave these terse replies when asked about his org's Form-990 and/or a financial disclosure:

Q: Is WCBC a 501(c)3, or (c)7, as described here?

  • ... do not include the WCBC or any members of the WCBC Executive Committee on your email messages or correspondence.
  • The White Clay Bicycle Club is not a 501(c)(3) as you state in a prior message.
  • The White Clay Bicycle Club is not a "political organization" as you possibly elude to in a prior message.

Summary: According to the IRS website at this time, WCBC is not a non-profit org. Even if this is an oversight on their part, it would still appear that there is a 509(a)3 "Type 3" relationship between WCBC and Bike Delaware, meaning that regardless of revenue totals each year, they should still file a Form-990 (or other documentation) and be transparent about it. This can be found in the IRS' 4221-PC Compliance Guide (pdf).

Given this is an inquiry, of which we can only hope there is nothing fraudulent in the end, we will update this article as we learn more. Feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Is WCBC's sponsorship of Bike Delaware a conflict of interest?

Does the White Clay Bicycle Club (WCBC) care if their generous annual donations are used in lobbying efforts to dismantle development codes, zoning rules, and open space requirements? To promote density waivers, and other pro-development initiatives? Are their members aware that by supporting what is purported to be a "non-political" 501(c)3 organization, they may be supporting the loss of green space, decimation of wildlife/biodiversity, hastening of climate change, and increases in traffic congestion and stress on the very roads they ride on?

This may be the case with WCBC's generous annual financial support of Bike Delaware. In addition to a vocally pro-development Executive Director James Wilson, at least two of Bike Delaware's Executive Board members have ties to the building industry. SB-130, fiercely opposed by the New Castle County Civic League, was widely recognized among advocates as a developer windfall. Since then, similar legislation has been introduced and passed. Recently, NCC Council largely dismantled traffic impact requirements in the approval of even major building/land use projects in much the same context as Bike DE's SB-130.

Because they are a top sponsor, WCBC should be asking the tough questions, and holding Bike Delaware to the highest standards of accountability and transparency. This goes well beyond their Form 990; it needs to include detailed lobbying reports (beyond this), meeting minutes, and donor lists. As the 4th most corrupt State in the nation, Delaware has no County-level mechanism for tracking lobbyist interactions over specific Council legislation unlike the State, which maintains a reporting system for all lobbying on bills and is overseen by the Public Integrity Commission.

We raised these concerns with WCBC's President John Haupt on June 27, asking whether or not pro-development/anti-open space lobbying fits his org's mission, and if they do demand transparency from Bike Delaware. If the document(s) are there to prove it, his org should present this (or make it available to) their membership. Contrary to similar organizations, nothing except Bike Delaware's Form 1023-EZ and 2019 Form 990 is made available on the Internet.

It's also noted that WCBC's Haupt has a land-use connection as an Associate Vice President & Manager with a major land surveying company. While that may or may not directly implicate him given everything above, it is fair to ask for WCBC's position on open space, the environment, and road safety and education. It directly relates to what his organization endeavors to provide for their sanctioned rides and events, in terms of more rural and scenic roads with fewer cars. Historically, WCBC has also supported the 6 Es of bicycling advocacy, few of which Bike Delaware actively pursues in the built environment.

Summary: WCBC has claimed to be a "non-profit" since the early 1970s, but the club cannot be found in any search of the IRS's "Tax Exempt Organization" database. They raise significant funds (possibly up to half of their income) from non-members -- mainly in the form of event fees -- and donate said funds to Bike Delaware, another non-profit that lacks transparency (no newsletter, no annual report, no annual meeting, no posted meeting minutes, no website search tool, etc) and engages in lobbying activities for pro-building and development causes.

WCBC is one of Bike Delaware's top sponsors, and as the largest recreational bicycling club in the State, that makes them responsible for transparency and accountability for monies donated. Its President and Executive Board owes it to those who pay dues, event fees (non-members included) and other monies into the organization, believing it has their best interests at heart. WCBC needs to demand detailed transparency from Bike Delaware before handing over thousands of dollars in member dues and event fees on an annual basis.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Where is Bike Delaware on projects that really matter?

Wawa, new shops planned for Christiana area

From the Delaware On-Line. Excerpts from the article:

Construction is expected to begin this fall on a new Wawa off Del. 273.

The Wawa will be in a new development east of the University Plaza shopping center, which includes Burlington and Acme. The convenience store will also have gas pumps.

Plans for the site also call for two retail pads, one designed for a fast food or quick service restaurant, and the other for a larger restaurant or retailer.

A new road will be constructed west of the development off Del. 273 and across from Browns Lane, which leads to the Christiana Town Center.

Another Wawa is nearing completion at the corner of Wrangle Hill and Red Lion Roads in Bear. It is expected to open in late 2019 or early 2020.

Every time these overwhelmingly car-centric development plans surface, is Bike Delaware even remotely advocating for protected bicycle facilities, bike parking, and place-making in general? They easily find time to arrange meetings with developers and County Council members while advocating for high density zoning and maximum build-out of DE's last remaining open spaces. But why are they absent when & where they're truly needed, in projects where cars dominate and inviting bike-ped accommodations aren't even considered? Projects that include stores like WaWa, Royal Farms, and other mega-"convenience" stores with a dozen or more gas pumps are a major disaster for the environment, safety, community building and place-making in general. At the very least, Bike Delaware should be at the forefront, demanding safe bike-ped accommodations.

But then, unless it's high profile and to their advantage, Bike Delaware never rallies around (much less attends) workshops for individual DelDOT reconstruction and/or pave & rehab projects either. These usually include marginal sidewalks and/or shared-use shoulders, with clear opportunities for upgrades to (e.g.) cycle tracks and/or protected bike lanes. An organization whose "mission" it is to build complete bicycling networks suitable for everyone -- including children -- would have a major presence with each and every project, regardless of size and scope. Instead, we have roads, sidewalks and intersections routinely rehabbled or reconstructed using the same bad engineering practices instead of, for example, installing min. 8' wide asphalt multi-modal pathways that afford bicyclists equal right of way with car traffic.

Bike Delaware's mission statement: Bike Delaware advocates for safe, convenient and fun cycling and walking for everyone.

Whatever Bike DE's advocacy entails, it isn't anything holistic and doesn't include the networking of safe inviting pathway facilities that would enable Delawareans to replace car trips with active transportation modes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Is Bike Delaware a Tool of Developer Interests? (Updated: 9/28/2019)

8 things to consider if you support Bike Delaware and believe in their mission and vision.

SB-130, Enterprise Districts
  • One of Bike Delaware's top legislation pieces centers around land use. At the core is SB-130 Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Districts, which promotes large, high density mixed use developments. Selling them as multi-modal could see NCC relax vehicle level of service (LOS) requirements, and put such development on the fast track. Only recently, NCC Council largely dismantled traffic impact requirements in the approval of even major building/land use projects in much the same context as Bike Delaware's SB-130.
Lobbying efforts (infrastructure)
  • Lobbies almost exclusively for high profile trails and pathways projects. These benefit developers by increasing surrounding property values, and ultimately, it becomes a selling point for homes clustered nearby. Lobbying also focuses on high density housing developments, under the guise of "transit oriented developments" (aka TOaDs). These include land use meetings with developers and NCC Council members, more recently with the loss of the Brandywine Country Club and open space.
Dissing and undermining of on-road bicycling safety efforts
  • Ignoring efforts at road bicycling education and infrastructure. Any pragmatist would agree that we need to FIX what we already have -- before heaping on more development. This would rightfully suggest that we can and should retrofit the built environment -- FIRST. Instead, Bike Delaware advocates for multi-modalism with new housing developments only, giving these a higher likelihood of density waivers and project approval (tip: doesn't work when surrounded by auto-dependent suburbs).
A project to "upgrade" the S. College
Avenue (Rt.896) overpass at I95 has
had workshops with no reported
involvement from Bike Delaware. Such
a project could include a separated
bicycle facility making an invaluable
connection between Newark and
Never attends DelDOT workshops
  • Unless high profile as mentioned above, Bike Delaware has little known presence rallying around (much less attending) individual DelDOT reconstruction and/or pave & rehab project workshops. Projects usually include sidewalks and/or shared-use shoulders, with clear opportunities for upgrades to (e.g.) cycle tracks and/or protected bike lanes. An organization whose mission it is to build complete bicycling networks suitable for everyone would have a major presence (or at least a call to action) with each and every project, regardless of size and scope. Instead, we have roads, sidewalks and intersections routinely rehabbled and/or reconstructed using the same bad engineering practices instead of, for example, installing 8' wide asphalt multi-modal pathways. It should also be noted that Bike Delaware quashed any notion of revamping the State's badly antiquated anti-Pedestrian language in the vehicle code.
Developer-friendly Staff and Board of Directors
  • In addition to their developer-friendly Executive Director, at least two of Bike DE's board members have ties to the building industry, development firms, and property management. Their profiles can be read HERE.
No record of endorsement for open space and/or regional park initiatives
  • Bike Delaware has no known record supporting (never mind lobbying for) the use of DE's last remaining green spaces as regional parks, even when proven to have enormous benefits for bicycling, walking, the environment, local economy, and interconnecting communities.
Touting the impossible
  • Selling an impossible vision to Delaware's bicycling community, by insisting that we can build a low-stress, off-alignment (away from roads entirely) bicycling network locally accessible to everyone, including 8-80 year olds. The facts say otherwise. (tip: a course in home rule and county land use would also help).
Fails to appear with any charity watch organization
  • Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, Universal Giving, Philanthropedia, GiveWell, Great Nonprofits, and others do not include Bike Delaware as one of their ethical, creditable non-profits worthy of charitable donations.
What little open space remains in NCC is mostly what planners and developers refer to as "infill", where any type of connectivity is fiercely opposed by existing neighborhoods. Most larger tracts -- also surrounded by car-dependent sprawl -- are either off limits or being hotly contested for open space acquisition. That said, if they really are intent on paving over most of the State's remaining farmland in Kent and Sussex, it might be possible to build enough contiguous TOaD that more folks do indeed bike and walk between communities, and use transit if the State arranges and funds it. Alternatives to car usage might become a little more popular. But then you have the cheapest gas in history (inflation factored) to ruin the incentive, and examples like Stevenage to explain around.

Delaware's fall from #3 to #7 as a Bicycle Friendly State was largely due to a lack of low stress connectivity and a bicycling mode share that barely registers. Unless the State is prepared to spend enormous sums and begin using eminent domain, connectivity that the 8-80 yo "interested but concerned" folks can use to circumvent arterial roads and intersections will remain impossible. Govt would have to strategically condemn and raze private properties in order to install non-motorized pathway connections between developments, and designate their streets as "bike boulevards". Doing so would draw the ire of adjacent residents, and trigger a frenzy of lawsuits. Except in a rare case or two, it isn't going to happen.

The Oil Crisis of 1973 was the last time in U.S. history that bicycling was truly popular for transportation purposes. With mode share currently at 0.2% in Delaware, major Govt spending on bike path infrastructure by confiscating private property would be political suicide. Bike Delaware should also understand that where cities and countries have high bicycle mode share, car ownership and fuel costs are prohibitively expensive and/or inconvenient. Raising the cost of driving to encourage alternative modes would again be political suicide.

So decide for yourself what Bike Delaware's true motive is, and just who may be bankrolling their staff and for what purpose. Organizations like the White Clay Bicycle Club lavish thousands of dollars every year on Bike Delaware, knowing full well that they are anything but transparent about their activities and finances. Delaware bicyclists should consider all of the facts mentioned in this article before joining either organization. If anything discussed here can be proven as false or inaccurate, please email or include in comments below any supporting evidence and documentation.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Lisa Diller, Matthew Meyer, Edward Osienski, and Bryan Townsend: The Epitome of Corrupt Government in DE

Corruption is a cancer: A cancer that eats away at a citizen's faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity"
~ Joe Biden

For the record, Saving the Orphanage Property (STOP) was a three year grassroots campaign (2015-2018) to save the last significant open space in Ogletown, Delaware, for a regional park. A host of other reasons -- some critical -- also existed for why the land should have been preserved, and was not suitable for development. However, the effort was crushed and defeated by government corruption on the part of New Castle County (NCC) and State elected legislators with financial ties to development interests, and a newly elected pro-development County Executive.

The below fact collection tells the entire story. No actual evidence was ever presented to disprove them. These legislators -- Councilwoman Lisa Diller, Rep Edward Osienski, and Senator Bryan Townsend -- then acted to deceive the electorate prior to the 2018 election, campaigning that they did everything possible to bring a park and place-making (180 acres of trails, critical habitat area, and open space) to Ogletown, and that these facts are in some way "unsubstantiated". All three then went on to resounding victories in their re-election bids, despite the dire environmental and socio-economic consequences.

If any of the 16 facts below -- in BOLD font -- are false or inaccurate, please comment with the evidence and/or proof otherwise, and we will eagerly retract and update this blog.

FACT: News of the Felician Sisters desire to develop the Orphanage Property was NOT brought to the public for over 2 years (documented) than it could have been. And discussion about the possibility of development was brought to Councilwoman Lisa Diller, Representative Ed Osienski, and Senator Bryan Townsend at the very beginning of that time. Additionally during the 2013-2015 time frame, Diller and NCC Council raised $150,000 to help the Felician Sisters get a plan approved, with virtually no public knowledge.

FACT: From the time that the July 2015 public meeting was held at Holy Family Church, Councilwoman Diller and Rep Osienski were heard on many occasions referring to the development or their help in saving the Orphanage Property as "Done", "Finished", and/or "It (the Chestnut Hill "Preserve) is going to happen, it’s going to happen", etc. Osienski in particular made it clear in writing that a STOP campaign started years earlier -- in 2013 before the exploratory plan was even drawn up -- would have made no difference in the outcome.

FACT: The Traffic Impact Study (TIS) was carefully scoped to exclude nearby signalized intersections that fail level of service (LOS). In contempt of the Unified Development Code (UDC), they used driveways, median cut-throughs and residential T streets along Route 4 to fulfill the "three intersections in each direction" mandate. This underhanded action insured that the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" would move forward with no chance of traffic concerns taken seriously.

FACT: (Provided via expert opinion from a now former NCC Council member and expert in the field, and in a meeting between Advocates and officials from the NCC Dept of Land Use): The Orphanage Property sits atop one of the highest water tables in the State, and would be very difficult to build on without exasperating flood-prone issues in adjacent communities and a FEMA "100 year" flood plain down on Leathermans Run/Christina River.

FACT: According to NCC’s GIS mapping tool, all 180 acres of the Orphanage Property was shown as “Low Density Suburban”, in terms of future land use. Somewhere along the way, without public notice, it was re-purposed as mainly High Density for the approximate 60 acres of open field space abutting Route 4. The rest (120 acres of non-buildable wetlands, woodlands, and vernal pools) became a “gift” from the developer, to be used to fulfill what is normally a very small percentage of open space mandated in the UDC. So, in essence, when considering what was actually “buildable”, and the fact that the Chestnut Hill “Preserve” does indeed clear and pave over a portion of the forest and wetlands, the result is a negative contribution to open space.

FACT: In a blatant conflict of interest, Exec Meyer appointed Joseph Setting (Orphanage Property developer at the time, according to the WNJ, and still vested via multiple LLCs) and Michael Hoffman (of Tarabicos-Grosso, firm representing the Felician Sisters) to Chairman and sub-Chair positions on the NCC Parks Transition Team. Their job was to help Meyer prioritize parkland needs for every region of NCC. This was a clear conflict of interest, and Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) Advocates filed a formal complaint with the NCC "Ethics" Commission (NCCEC). The NCCEC would not go beyond a "preliminary" investigation, basing their conclusion on hearsay and/or very minimal inputs. They ruled that it was not a conflict of interest and did NOT appear improper, when in fact, placing Ogletown-S. Newark (aka “Route 4 corridor”) at #3 priority guaranteed the Orphanage Property would be lost to development based purely on lack of funds. The Parks budget barely had enough to cover #1 and #2 – Red Lion and Middletown – whose land was either donated or already owned by NCC. Purchase of the Orphanage Property should have easily been #1, given the one chance-only opportunity it represented.

FACT: Senator Townsend and Rep Osienski would NOT intervene, assert themselves and/or participate in Orphanage Property buyout negotiations; instead, they trusted and allowed their NCC Democratic colleague -- newly elected County Executive Matt Meyer -- to handle all negotiations on behalf of saving the Orphanage Property. Despite pleas from Advocates to oversee Meyer's negotiations, and the chance of losing this one chance-only opportunity for a park, both would not get involved and they wouldn't even enlist the highest office for help - the Governor.

FACT: (According to Townsend through emails and phone calls): Exec Meyer FAILED to include several basic conditions in his written buyout offers that he had personally promised the Sisters in prior meetings (i.e. who's going to plow the snow at the entry road, etc). According to Meyer, there were four buyout offers -- but it was later found that only two were in any way usable. Because Diller had publicly stated in public and in an e-mail to her Constituents that she was “Done and Finished” and would not support the objections to the development -- and there was no State Legislator oversight in spite of them sharing constituents and being equally vested -- none of this was rectified.

FACT: (According to Townsend through emails and phone calls): Meyer refused to offer above appraised value for the Orphanage Property, despite approx $1M dollars already spent in developer planning, engineering and labor that would have to be absorbed. The Felician Sisters, in favor of the park themselves, offered to "meet halfway" on that, as long as Meyer produced a viable offer with basic conditions met. Meyer hesitated, sticking to his non-viable offer, then he waited a couple of months for the Sisters to "counter". Upon not hearing from NCC and Meyer, the Sisters had to commit one way or the other. With so much uncertainty surrounding Meyer and government funding in general, the last Orphanage Property deadline passed and the land was locked in for development. Again, because there was no State Legislator oversight -- in spite of them sharing constituents and being equally vested -- none of this was or could be rectified.

FACT: The Ogletown-S. Newark region does NOT have a regional park, and now thanks to Diller-Osienski-Townsend (and Meyer 11th hour) they never will. This is in contempt of the State's supposed Mission included in such programs as "Livable Delaware" (Minner), Trails & Pathways (Markell), along with endless studies and data that proves the value of such facilities to the health and well-being of the communities that surround them. The economic benefits of parks are also invaluable, and they more than pay for themselves. These three Legislators went the entire opposite direction, compromising an entire region's health, happiness, property values, and right of access to healthy exercise. Instead, they chose an increase in congestion and the stresses of over-development, and to require residents to drive 15-20 minutes to use another region's park.

FACT: All 3 of the region's Legislators and Exec Matt Meyer accept numerous and generous campaign contributions from developers, land use attorneys, and others in the construction and building industry. Although STOP did receive a Resolution from the Civic League of NCC (CLNCC) in support of saving the Orphanage Property, Advocates are unaware of any efforts on their part to call out the enormous level of corruption that took place throughout the STOP campaign, most notably the above-mentioned conflict of interest and the NCCEC's failure to cite it.

FACT: A highly esteemed past president of the CLNCC had repeated to Advocates on several occasions that it is 'normal' procedure for NCC Govt and the involved Councilperson to give the genuine appearance of helping citizens and Advocates in matters of land use and conservation. Then approval of the development project goes to a vote, at which point the entire Council -- minus the Councilperson whose district it is -- votes to approve it. This, in effect, helps said Councilperson salvage their job since they voted against approval, while the others voted to approve, making it "not their fault". Citizens watched this exact scenario unfold as Councilwoman Lisa Diller was the lone vote against the Chestnut Hill “Preserve”.

FACT: (Stated by CLNCC members on several occasions): The NCC Dept of Land Use and NCC take in enormous sums of money from development projects, but in the long term, tax revenue from each new home ends up being 10-20% less than the County pays for needed civil and other services. This initial cash infusion drives NCC Council and their Legislators to act in the interest of short term self-preservation, not their constituents interests and regardless of whether existing home inventory is high or if parkland is needed.

FACT: Councilwoman Lisa Diller voted YES with NCC Council to pay above appraised value for the land that the new Route 9 “Library and Innovation Center” now sits on. This facility – while welcome for a community well outside NCC Dist 5 -- ended up costing NCC nearly $30M after what was originally projected as a $20M expenditure. Diller, however, defended Meyer’s stance that NCC will not pay a dime over appraised value for the Orphanage Property, despite a relatively small amount being clearly justified and benefiting her own constituents.

FACT: In Senator Townsend's on-line timeline "Ogletown Park", and in person and in emails, he and Rep Osienski tell a very different story from Exec Meyer of what took place during negotiations with the Felician Sisters. According to "County Efforts" -- an article published on NCC's website -- it appears certain that Meyer and NCC gave it their all in the buyout attempt. Townsend and Osienski, on the other hand, describe how Meyer was anything but sincere and genuine in wanting a regional park. Both have provided many examples supporting their positions, with Meyer going so far as to say that Townsend had originally secured $6M toward the Orphanage Property in the State’s bond bill. So in a game of "Name that Liar", we have two attorney politicians representing the County and State, with two very conflicting stories.

FACT: For all intents and purposes, the July 2015 public meeting hastily arranged by Diller was already TOO LATE for constituent involvement in terms of best use for the Orphanage Property. It was also too late for Advocates to change the outcome to a park, given so much time and money already invested in planning the Chestnut Hill "Preserve". The Public and the Constituents, most importantly those in the communities adjacent to the project, were not notified, nor asked for their input.

Counciloman Diller, Representative Osienski, and Senator Townsend refuted these facts throughout their 2018 campaigns, through hearsay or by applying their own political spin and/or attorney-speak to these events. Never once were these facts formally contested during STOP’s three year campaign, yet in what appears overwhelming fashion, the people approved of their job performance by re-electing them in a landslide. It should be noted, however, that this landslide (an average 2-1 margin for all three) represented about 20% of their district's citizens; about half are registered voters, and of those, about 2/3 turn out and vote. Then you have their legislative districts that are gerrymandered to ensure out-of-region participation. It is not clear how someone living in chateau country northwest of Newark, or someone living on Orchard Avenue near the University of DE, for example, has the same needs and interests as those living in, say, Brookside or Todd II. But then, the "system" is designed to ensure victory for these politicians, even those who commit the worst crimes against their constituents, because what effects one region likely won't affect the other (re-election chances saved).

Absent were Delaware's key so-called "environmental conservation" and civic organizations, who either refused or could not be bothered with endorsing STOP after repeated appeals to do so. A few including Delaware Nature Society, White Clay Creek Watershed, and even the UAW's CAP Council jumped on board immediately with vocal and written support of three concise Orphanage Property preservation statements. Delaware Audubon, Sierra Club, and Wildlands either declined or ignored the campaign completely. STOP Advocates were also met with resistance from Newark area "environmental" advocacy leaders, who not only didn't support STOP, but were troubled that their email list was used to reach out for endorsements.

Among the few bright spots was the Civic League of New Castle County,
 that did endorse STOP. But actual support from that organization fell woefully short and/or turned negative as the campaign struggled late. Vic Singer, their most prominent and respected board member (and 13 years past Chair of the NCC Planning Board) maintained from the outset that Advocates were conducting an "emotional" campaign doomed to failure, instead of "simply" asserting the letter of the law as written in the UDC. According to Singer, the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" could be halted at the 51st NCC building permit. 51 housing units is all that the Unified Development Code allows dispensation for when level of service (LOS) is in failure mode -- as it most definitely is along Route 4 and at its intersections. The truth is, nothing was going to stand in the way of the full development; not Vic Singer; not DelDOT, and certainly not the State legislators, who could have easily secured the funds and stopped this travesty over the 6 years they knew about it. It was completely moot, and served only to create a false sense of hope; once all the key infrastructure elements (streets, curbing, sewer, drainage, etc) were in place, even if Singer was legally correct, a way to complete the entire development would still have to be found. In spite of this difficulty, there were a few on the CLNCC that did work with the STOP campaign when there was actually a chance (before construction began) to stop it, and their efforts were appreciated -- alongside several other citizens, organizations and Advocates that gave a hand.

Given everything written above, the overwhelming odds are that a carefully orchestrated plan was in place to ensure that the Orphanage Property was developed. The Legislators mentioned above, acting on behalf of their campaign donors and/or other monetary interests, acted together to keep themselves safe from any form of judicial or disciplinary authority. NCC Exec Matt Meyer was granted exclusive control to "negotiate" on behalf of a County-State buyout, and would take the fall since he didn't need the Ogletown-S. Newark region for positive NCC-wide approval ratings. On the citizen end of things, a few folks residing in the adjacent communities of Todd Estates II and Breezewood were outstanding. But support from fellow Advocates, from so-called "environmentalists", and from local civic groups wasn't even lukewarm. That apathy, combined with rampant government corruption is what cost us this land, and given that, the Ogletown-S. Newark region will forever be at a loss -- a HUGE loss.

People's indifference is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow"
~ Delia Ferreira Rubio

“The politicians are put there to give you the idea you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land, they own and control the corporations that've long since bought and paid for, the senate, the congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pocket, and they own all the big media companies so they control just about all of the news and the information you get to hear. They got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else. But I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them.” ~ George Carlin


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Picking up the pieces after government defeat of STOP

Above: The Orphanage Property Trail & Pathway system as mapped with
GPS. The land was lost to Govt corruptionand with that, the last chance
at a regional park and bike path facilities for the Ogletown-S. Newark region.

Several of our followers have written, having noted a hiatus in our posting of articles. Nearly every last ounce of effort and energy has been focused on saving the Orphanage Property as a Regional Park for the Ogletown-S. Newark region. Without ideas or submissions from fellow bicycling advocates, we've had little time for anything else.

Saving the last significant open space on the entire Rt.4 corridor suitable for such a purpose did have serious ties to biking in the region, including a bicycle-friendly destination, local place-making, and an enhanced quality of life. Now being paved over with hundreds of unneeded homes, thousands of residents are forever condemned to racking up and driving their bikes (or sneakers, if walking or running) about 20 minutes, either to Glasgow or Pike Creek if they wish to enjoy such a facility. This contradicts Gov Ruth Ann Minner's Livable DE and the Trails & Pathways initiatives, among others.

The Orphanage Property was an absolutely idyllic green space. At 180 acres of trail-laden forests, meadows and fields, it could have been the crowned jewel in a notoriously under-served area of New Castle County. It would have made a superb legacy for one or more of the region's County and State legislators. But tragically, it was payback time for their campaign donors instead (largely comprised developers, contractors, and others in the building industry) and in their minds, short term profits trumped any such need. So in the end, a very select few people -- NCC Exec Matt Meyer, Councilwoman Lisa Diller, Senator Bryan Townsend, and Rep. Ed Osienski -- collectively made the decision against the wishes of thousands of their constituents, and now we must live with it forever. It's disgusting, to say the least.

Notoriously absent among the STOP campaign's endorsements was of course Bike Delaware, who would never support open space or parkland acquisition if approached. Their Exec Director has even been quoted as questioning why anyone would. As opposed to their pro-development stance, 1st State Bikes is committed to a built environment in balance with the natural world. Not only is this critical for the well-being of humanity, but there is a whole host of socio-economic and environmental reasons why this is vital, if not imperative.

This is all for now. Here are the most recent links to our partner blog "Ogletown Resilience", bringing to a bitter end what was an exemplary campaign in the name of responsible land use.

STOP's Top 10 Unanswered Questions

Highest of odds that SR4 intersections already fail at LOS grade "F"

No stopping the Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

Conflict of Interest is not enough for Ethics Commission

Will NCC and DE turn a blind eye to the worst of unethical behavior?

Guest Contributor Bill Dilks: Felician Sisters Orphanage Property

Why didn't STOP Legislators invoke Eminent Domain?

"Ogletown Park" timeline mostly subjective, unproven

NCC, DelDOT appear resolute in accommodating Chestnut Hill "Preserve"

STOP Update: Construction rolls on despite AP Claim

STOP: Another Window Opens 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

STOP defeat helps pave the way for North Jersey redux

By Frank Warnock, on behalf of the STOP campaign

We're such horrible people for wanting this jewel of a landscape saved, that even the press has abandoned us. We've become toxic, to be avoided at all cost. This, despite the blatant contempt for established county codes and other law breaks going on with the Chestnut Hill "Preserve". Our last press release stirred no interest among any of the major outlets, despite a clear outline of one, final, last gasp potential for a buyout opportunity.

Starting construction of the Chestnut Hill "Preserve"
It's such a terrible and rotten thing when you're trying to be a force for good, for the greater good of people, the planet and its indigenous species, isn't it? It's become abundantly clear to Advocates just how anti-environment this county and state has become, even when they know and understand the implications of putting money before quality of life issues.

As what's left begins to fill in, don't think for a moment that so-called "protected" lands now won't come under scrutiny. Traffic sewers like most of N Jersey and SE PA didn't happen without rampant corruption and crushing pressure by development interests ruling the day. Growing up in NJ, I watched it unfold before my eyes, to where reaching any kind of rural countryside and/or habitat area became an hours+ long harrowing car trip away.

Therefore, with so little support coming from those we truly need it from, this is what we can expect. This lack of support was shocking, having included so-called environmental orgs like DE Audubon, DE Chapter of the Sierra Club, DE Wildlands, our region's civic groups, etc. as non-endorsers. With all of the attention on the Coastal Zone Act (the darling of Townsend and Osienski, btw), so-called environmentalists have lost sight of the critical need for inland wetlands and open space protection as well. And that's not to mention a sorely needed regional park.

Below is a snip showing the difference. No, the scale on North Jersey wasn't increased -- both are the same. With an exemplary campaign like STOP unable to put the brakes on a disaster like the Chestnut Hill "Preserve", this is what's coming, folks. Fill in the pale yellow, over time, until we are wall to wall bodies with little to no bio-diversity and green space.

The only advice we can offer is to abandon the two party establishment system and start voting for 3rd party candidates whose mission it is to protect the environment and our quality of life. Or, if that's a stretch for you to consider, at least vote anti-incumbent; the Democrats are clinging to a 1-seat majority in the Senate. They have placed the bar so incredibly low, just vote to tip the balance of power, even if it isn't necessarily favorable.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Meyer, Ogletown-S. Newark Legislators are a disgrace to democracy

By Frank Warnock and Angela Connolly -- 
 A 2.5 year exemplary citizen advocacy campaign to save the Orphanage Property (OP) in Ogletown in its natural state, and to truly preserve it as a future regional park has finally ended. Multiple windows of opportunity for buyout were -- time and time again -- refused action by our legislators on both the County and the State level.

It is estimated that, judging by a 1,100+ following on social media alone, Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) had many thousands of area residents that were backing the campaign. No fundraising took place, and no memberships were offered; it would be the truest of grassroots efforts. Despite such widespread and enthusiastic support, no amount of action or visibility on the part of residents and citizens counted toward democracy -- and in light of a broken Unified Development Code, the rule of law. It has become painfully clear that, from STOP's earliest beginnings, fate was already decided. Councilwoman Lisa Diller, State Rep Edward Osienski, and Senator Bryan Townsend were well aware that development of the OP was coming as early as 2013, and kept it a secret from their Constituents until it was too late.

Shortly after the CHP was accidentally leaked, Councilwoman Diller was forced to call an emergency public hearing. At least one is required by County law for any major plan. In July 2015, hundreds of area residents came out to Holy Family Church and were shocked and dismayed to find out that the CHP was already well advanced and would be difficult to stop. Had Diller, along with our two State Legislators brought this to the public two years earlier, it could have been an entirely different outcome. A way could have been found to provide the Felician Sisters with their 60 units of affordable housing, which the STOP Campaign supported, while preserving the bulk as a regional park. The Nuns at that time had even favored such an outcome over the development.

Immediately after this first and only hearing, "Save Ogletown Pond" (SOP) grew exponentially, with the immediate goal of steering any development away from the "Ogletown Pond" critical habitat area. The developers did comply and adjusted their plan to the west and closer to Breezewood. But the larger goal did not stop there; it was soon obvious that everyone wanted the entire parcel for dedicated open space, wetland protection, wildlife buffer, and ultimately, a regional park. The Ogletown-S. Newark area is devoid of such a facility, that could be walkable, jogable, or bikeable from their homes. Those closest -- Glasgow and Pike Creek -- are a 20+ min drive for most, which contradicts Gov Minner's "Livable Delaware" and DNREC's "Trails and Pathways" initiatives (among others). The Orphanage Property represented the last potential green space that can be designated, and in the process, it would prevent some of the horrific damage being done to Delaware's bio-diversity and wildlife habitat according to a recent report authored by Senator Stephanie Hansen. That chance is now gone due to political apathy and indifference, and a shunning of "We The People".

County Executive Matt Meyer
The amount of dishonesty and half-truths by these legislators was staggering. They did a superb job at keeping advocates in flux, confusion, in darkness and not knowing, and having to guess who was on the side of truth. Councilwoman Lisa Diller insisted all along that the property was not for sale, and for all intents and purposes, she was "done and finished" with any notion of a buyout. She made that clear in meetings, and in writing, in one of her e-newsletters. That simply wasn't true, because as seen, it was later sold to developers. The onus then shifted to NCC Exec Matt Meyer, who failed to produce a buyout proposal that was acceptable to the Felician Sisters. During that time, Senator Bryan Townsend repeatedly said that Mr Meyer threw away several windows of opportunity.

Because it was Mr Meyer who was meeting with the Sisters, not the State legislators -- who were either prohibited or unwilling to participate -- advocates had no conduit and thus no way to know if progress was being made. In a leap of faith, they chose to put their complete trust in Senator Townsend, who claimed to be in regular touch with the Sisters and thus, receiving their updates on negotiations. The news was not good; Mr Meyer, according to Townsend, had bungled repeat buyout offers by not meeting several basic demands that he and the Sisters had verbally agreed upon. He simply wasn't "going after it" with the heart of someone who really wanted a park for Ogletown. He had an excellent deal in the palm of his hand, with a huge multiplier in State money, but simply wouldn't close it. This was the news coming back to advocates with repeated calls and emails from the State Legislators, mainly Senator Townsend.

In the time that ensued, the announcement came through that the Sisters sold the OP to Robert Sipple, a major land developer. With Ryan Homes, he is currently heading up the controversial LaGrange development along Rt.40 in Glasgow, where they are fighting to develop a "permanently" protected historical area (more on that in future posts). Advocates re-organized and thought it best to contact Mr Sipple directly, and ask for a meeting to find if there was a price that he and his people would accept in a buyout proposal. A non-STOP advocate (who chose not to be identified) made contact with Mr Sipple through Joseph Setting of Setting Properties. Mr Setting is the developer that was cited by the Wilmington News Journal as the developer of the OP just shortly after the CHP was leaked and then announced in 2015. He continues in one, possibly two LLCs that are associated with the development of the OP, which runs contradictory to his claim of being disassociated.

The meeting took place around lunch, with Senator Townsend in attendance. Apparently, Rep Osienski was unable to attend for medical purposes. Or so he says. There was no agenda, but Mr Sipple quoted a figure of $7.14M that he thought would be an acceptable buyout cost, but that he would need to meet with his partners to discuss. Little is known about the meeting beyond that, but Sen. Townsend insisted that his repeated calls and emails to Mr Sipple since then had gone unanswered. It is his opinion that Mr Sipple's lack of confidence in NCC is what has him now moving forward with the CHP as opposed to any thoughts of selling.

Representative John Kowalko (Newark)
As it turned out, Advocates did learn that Exec Meyer had agreed to bring 1/2 the buyout price before NCC for a vote, which if successful, would make the OP a State and County purchase as originally hoped for. Unfortunately, Mr Meyer also said that he wanted no part in negotiations with Mr Sipple or any logistics in a buyout. That alone ended any notion of County involvement, financially or otherwise, because any deal on this scale must come at the County level.

Complete silence from all parties would follow, with the exception of one instant message from Exec Meyer on the evening of Jan 17 putting his $3+M offer in writing. His language suggested he was naive about the current situation, and questioned if the Bond Bill funding had come through on the State side. Nothing he said indicated he had spoken with Senator Townsend or Rep Osienski. He further suggested that it was their failure to progress that held things up. Meanwhile, Townsend replied "I have seen email communication from Meyer that is not at all a rosy picture of support for [STOP]. Meyer (of course) says he supports [the buyout], but then goes on to say how the County can't afford to participate."

As of 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 18, 2018, surveyors set up camp on the OP. They are beginning the drainage and utility mapping for 270 homes that are now sure to come. The CHP is anything but a "preserve", but in a complete oxymoron, that is what they call it. This super high density development will completely fill in the region's last remaining wildlands and open space that is suitable for a deserved regional park. Construction will soon be underway, with no apparent way to stop it.

We will now summarize some key aspects of the STOP campaign, and why things turned out the way they did.
Councilwoman Lisa Diller
  • Councilwoman Lisa Diller declared herself detached and unwilling to champion the cause, insisting all along that the land was not for sale. Executive Meyer was not a sincere proponent of STOP either, and kept finding reasons not to commit. Was it because he accepted maximum campaign contributions from numerous developers in Delaware? He also appointed Joseph Setting, a campaign donor and developer of the OP (according to the Wilmington News Journal), to serve as Chair of his Parks Transition Team. Mr Setting's role was a direct conflict of interest, giving him significant influence and input over where NCC parkland was prioritized. He remains vested in the property today via one, possibly two LLCs.
  • The Dept of Land Use (DLU) will be issuing illegal building permits for 269 apartments, townhomes and large-scale homes as part of the CHP, probably by Spring 2018. According to the Unified Development Code (UDC), if a project fails its Traffic Impact Study (TIS), it is not permitted without traffic level of service (LOS) improvements funded by the developer.   
  • In the case of the CHP, DelDOT expanded the scope of the TIS by six intersections, two of them in grade "E" failure mode based on 2010 study data. Today they are likely "F". Ironically, the author wrote that these were to be omitted, however, UDC section 40.11.124 states the contrary – that DelDOT's recommendations are equally relevant. Therefore, issuing building permits is illegal. Repeated attempts to contact Mr Richard Hall, Manager at the DLU, have been made, and are still being made, to no avail. Advocates need to see in writing where in County law that the DLU or anyone else has the authority to override TIS regulations when the transportation system is already overwhelmed, or otherwise exercise discretion over how it's carried out. Mr Hall, at, refuses to reply.
    Representative Ed Osienski
  • Rep Osienski, Senator Townsend, and Councilwoman Lisa Diller all knew that the Nuns were pushing for development as far back as 2013, but didn't think they were serious and/or would succeed at getting a plan approved. They didn't think anything would happen, and did not see the land for the invaluable opportunity that it was. They never considered land conservation in their districts, or securing a regional park for the people to enjoy and be proud of. By 2015, the CHP was far along in the planning, and their constituents had no choice now but to be TOLD what was coming to their community, instead of an appeal for comments and public input as is typical in the beginning stages of any major project. All three Legislators failed to inform and engage the Community in enough time to work together to help the Sisters realize their goal of creating affordable housing, while finding a suitable way to preserve the rest of the land. This tragedy could, and should have been avoided, through effective communication by our Legislators, with their constituents and with the Felician Sisters.
  • Approval of the CHP is a major blow to several Delaware initiatives intended to save our environment, fight climate change, and promote walkable, bikeable, and livable communities. The justification for a buyout of this land was overwhelming, and should have been jointly embraced by County and State Govt. During the STOP campaign, advocates also worked hard, and showed strength in numbers in Dover, at Bond Bill hearings, to promote funding for programs that include 10-9, or $19M, that is supposed to be included in the budget for open space and farmland acquisition and/or development rights -- by law. This was denied. Then advocates fought for open space as a plank in the Democratic platform, and that failed too. With Democrats in control of most of Delaware's legislative bodies, it would appear that open space and parkland is not their priority, and not to be funded or fought for.
Whether or not it was a vested interested in the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" (CHP), corruption, or simple indifference, one thing is abundantly clear; the loss of STOP was a colossal failure of political will and competence. The Ogletown-S. Newark region was already known to be dis-enfranchised in matters of community, place-making, and local access to quality regional parkland facilities. What has taken place here only cements this issue further, and in a way that can never be reversed. The goal now must be to replace these lawmakers with just and competent leaders who will listen to, and respect "We The People". November 2018 is not far off.