On Tuesday night, New Castle County Council voted to place a moratorium on a failing measure designed to create affordable housing for working class families.
The council voted 12-1 for the six-month moratorium on with on new development plans incorporating the provisions for workforce housing, as outlaid in the 2008 ordinance that created the movement.
Councilmember George Smiley, 7th District, casting the dissenting vote.
While the new designation was expected to bring in over $500,000 annually, county attorney Mary Jacobson said that the county has collected roughly $270 in six years.
Of the 31 existing workforce houses in New Castle, only two are owner occupied, leaving the rest as rental units, according to Jacobson.
Councilmember Bob Weiner, 2nd District, said that with a few legislative changes – including reducing lot size, larger zoning categories and a mandate for visual consistency – the workforce provision would be unnecessary.
"It was well intended but did not achieve its goals, due to a multiplicity of factors," Weiner said.
Council debated at length on whether or not five recently submitted plans hoping to take advantage of the "double density" factors offered by the provision would be grandfathered in if the moratorium is passed.
Smiley said that, from his perception, the county and the council could face lawsuits from those developers when the moratorium passes.
"I don't think we need to be involved with it," he said. "If the land use or executive department wants to take a position that they're not grandfathered … then let them fight it out."
Penrose Hollins, 4th District, who introduced the bill last fall, said he refused to allow the legislation to be used as a "negotiating tool" between developers and the land use department.
"I think the land use department can speak to what may or may not happen to those (plans) that folks are concerned about, but quite frankly those were not a part of this legislation as crafted," Hollins said.
Councilmember Janet Kilpatrick, 3rd District, said that she believed there was nothing sinister about the last-minute plan submissions.
"I think people want to know that, rather than do nothing for nine months, they've got something in the pipeline," she said.
Greater Hockessin Area Development Association vice president Mark Blake said that council needs to make sure the moratorium does not affect the plans that were filed in a timely and legal manner.
He added that while working on the Westhampton division with developer Jay Sonecha, they managed to negotiate on every point of concern, even talking Sonecha out of the original plan that included workforce housing.
"Now he's had to protect his rights by going back and refiling the original workforce housing plan, just to cover his butt," Blake said.
Page 2 of 2 - Hollins called the ongoing debate on the moratorium's intentions offensive.
"What you're hearing today has nothing to do with homeownership in New Castle County. It has everything to do (with) who invested and who did not invest," he said. "If you want to get the density, forget about workforce housing … and go for the ST zoning. That is the legal way to do it."