What if Rod­ney vote fails?

Of­fi­cials dis­cuss con­se­quences of not pass­ing ref­er­en­dum

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

The po­ten­tial con­se­quences of a failed ref­er­en­dum on the Rod­ney project came into fo­cus this week as the city of Newark pre­pares to em­bark on a pub­lic re­la­tions cam­paign to sell res­i­dents on the plan.

This spring, the city will ask vot­ers to ap­prove bor­row­ing up to $9 mil­lion to turn the shut­tered dorms into a stormwa­ter pond that will also in­clude many park ameni­ties.

At a coun­cil meet­ing Mon­day, city of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edged pub­licly what many res­i­dents have likely sus­pected – that if the city doesn’t buy Rod­ney, there’s a good chance the 7.24-acre site will be turned into a large apart­ment com­plex.

“If we don’t buy it and de­velop it, some­one will de­velop it,” Tim Fi­lasky, in­terim pub­lic works di­rec­tor, said. “They’re not go­ing to buy it to build stormwa­ter man­age­ment. I can guar­an­tee that.”

The city is un­der con­tract to buy the land from the Uni­ver­sity of Delaware and has three more years to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion. How­ever, if the deal does not go for­ward, UD would be free to sell the land to another buyer.

The land is cur­rently zoned for uni­ver­sity use but has a “sub­zon­ing” of gar­den apart­ments.

“The zon­ing for UD is an over­lay, and if a par­cel is no longer ed­u­ca­tional, it re­verts to its pre­vi­ous zon­ing,” city spokes­woman Kelly Bach­man ex­plained.

A de­vel­oper would be able to build 112 apart­ment units by right, mean­ing coun­cil ap­proval would not be needed, act­ing City Man­ager Tom Cole­man said.

A 2014 study found that the Rod­ney site – when com­bined with the nearby Dick­in­son dorm site – would be worth be­tween $6.5 mil­lion and $21.5 mil­lion if de­vel­oped into pri­vate stu­dent hous­ing.

The study found that the high­est and best use for the two prop­er­ties would be to turn them into a “stu­dent vil­lage” con­tain­ing a to­tal of 650 to 1,500 beds.

“The build­ings would be mid-rise con­struc­tion and of­fer a va­ri­ety of stu­dent ameni­ties. The vil­lage would pro­vide a sense of com­mu­nity for stu­dents and pro­vide part of the col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence,” Jay White of Apex Re­alty Ad­vi­sory wrote in the re­port.

That den­sity of hous­ing would re­quire re­zon­ing, which White noted “is not too dif­fi­cult” in Newark.

Mean­while, Fi­lasky noted that if the city does not buy Rod­ney, it would still need to un­der­take smaller projects to re­duce flood­ing in the area.

He said the city would look to ac­quire 17 to 24 homes in the area – likely by em­i­nent do­main – in or­der to use the land for stormwa­ter man­age­ment fa­cil­i­ties. The cost of buy­ing the land, go­ing through con­dem­na­tion pro­ceed­ings and de­mo­li­tion would ri­val the cost of the Rod­ney project, Fi­lasky said.

The city has been con­sid­er­ing pur­chas­ing the Rod­ney site since 2015 when UD an­nounced it was clos­ing the dorms.

Fi­lasky said the Rod­ney site is in an ideal lo­ca­tion to solve a ma­jor part of the city’s flood­ing is­sues. Cur­rently, stormwa­ter pipes car­ry­ing runoff from Oak­lands and sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods con­verge near the Rod­ney site and dur­ing heavy rain, over­whelm the sys­tem and cause flood­ing.

The pond would give the wa­ter a place to col­lect, and the wa­ter would be re­leased in a con­trolled man­ner over a longer pe­riod of time. That would al­le­vi­ate flood­ing in that area as well as down­stream in Old Newark and Devon.

Last month, of­fi­cials un­veiled an $8.1 mil­lion plan to build the pond and a sur­round­ing park that they hope would be­come a “unique recre­ational des­ti­na­tion” fea­tur­ing a walk­ing trail, play­ground, fish­ing pier and other ameni­ties.

On Mon­day, coun­cil gave Cole­man the au­thor­ity to ap­ply for up to $9 mil­lion from the state’s re­volv­ing loan fund. The move locks in a 2-per­cent in­ter­est rate but does not ob­li­gate the city to ac­tu­ally bor­row the money or move for­ward with the project.

If the ref­er­en­dum passes, the city will pay off the loan by in­creas­ing the monthly stormwa­ter fee charged to prop­erty own­ers. The stormwa­ter fee, which takes af­fect in Jan­uary, will charge res­i­dents be­tween $1.77 and $5.31 each month — based on the amount of im­per­vi­ous sur­faces on their prop­erty — to fund the city’s stormwa­ter op­er­a­tions and fix ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

If the Rod­ney project moves for­ward, the stormwa­ter fee will in­crease, with the av­er­age res­i­dent pay­ing an ad­di­tional $1.10 per month. That equates to the av­er­age res­i­dent pay­ing $264 over the 20 years it will take to pay off the loan.

Coun­cil­man Stu Markham was the lone op­pos­ing vote Mon­day, not­ing that he would rather build the pond first and then add park ameni­ties as fund­ing be­comes avail­able.

“I sup­port the idea of the stormwa­ter project. I can re­mem­ber how badly that area floods,” he said. “But I don’t want the Cadil­lac ver­sion.”

Start­ing in March, the city will un­der­take a pub­lic re­la­tions cam­paign – in­clud­ing meet­ings with com­mu­nity groups, on­line videos and so­cial me­dia posts – to en­cour­age res­i­dents to put their sup­port be­hind the project.

“We’ve had some good public­ity, but it’s go­ing to take a lit­tle more,” Fi­lasky said. “Peo­ple think it’s nice and every­thing, un­til you have to pay for it.”

Coun­cil­man Mark More­head said that while res­i­dents af­fected by the flood­ing can see the ben­e­fits of the project, the city needs to find a way to win over peo­ple who live in other ar­eas of Newark.

“I keep get­ting the ques­tion from folks all over town: What’s in it for me?,” More­head said.

He added that he’s also heard con­cerns that the pond will be­come a haven for mosquito breed­ing. Fi­lasky re­sponded that mos­qui­tos need shal­low, stand­ing wa­ter to breed, but the pond will be at least 3-feet deep and have an aer­a­tion pump.

“Mos­qui­tos don’t like deep wa­ter and they don’t like mov­ing wa­ter,” Fi­lasky said. “Both those things would be in­tro­duced into the pond.”

The next step, which will hap­pen early next year, is for coun­cil to set a date for the ref­er­en­dum and ap­prove the ques­tion that will be asked of vot­ers.

“The most pow­er­ful force in Newark is go­ing to have the fi­nal say on this: the vot­ing pub­lic,” Coun­cil­man Jerry Clifton said.


An artist’s ren­der­ing shows what the fish­ing pier at the Rod­ney stormwa­ter pond and park could look like.

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