A Better Approach to Planning

When I listen to the land management debate, I wonder why the real issues are often mentioned only in passing.  We are in danger of becoming a bedroom community not a vibrant self-sustaining one.   In Kent county, most people can no longer afford to live here on the wages paid.  According to the housing report, most people are being stretched by rent and mortgages beyond what they can comfortably afford.  High energy costs make commuting  to find a better job an unproductive option for many.  Stagnant wages, high energy costs, and a lack of affordable housing have created an iron triangle of despair for many people. 

To answer this we need to begin with a smarter, fairer approach to land management.  It should meet these three objectives:  reviving our towns and cities, providing a diversity of housing stock, and promoting a vibrant business environment.  It needs to respect property rights and be environmentally and culturally sustainable.

First, I wonder why we need to build town centers where there is no town.   It is almost like the Democrat majority in Kent county is trying to dump all of the growth in areas still represented by Republicans; political gamesmanship is not leadership.  That doesn’t seem like real change to the CR district and does nothing to alleviate the traffic issues about which everyone around Dover complains. The idea has merit if it is connected to town growth plans and can connect to town services.  The county needs to cooperate with the towns not build new towns.

Second, we need implement a Transfer of Development bank and institute a system where people can easily sale or trade TDR’s.  If someone wants to sell their development rights, not even the county can tell them for sure what to do.  I spoke with someone who did three different deals and each one had different rules, all in the same year.  The worse part is that it was becoming harder not easier.  If you want to control growth, let people make money off of keeping their property rural.  It is the best way to fairly compensate people for choosing to preserve their property.  It won’t work unless it is a market commodity.  Ideally, the TDR’s should also be able to be used in the towns to facilitate Traditional neighborhood design plans and giving developers matching tax credits to rehabilitate housing.  We don’t need to devalue property and place unheard of restrictions on people.

Third, we need to implement a traditional neighborhood design as a development option.  In my view it should be available in all areas and be encouraged not subjected to higher scrutiny.  It would provide a mix of housing, allow churches, medical offices, smaller stores, and other businesses not high traffic to be in an area.  It would allow a landowner and developer to make a greater profit offering some affordable housing while bringing good local jobs where people live.  That is good environmental policy, and economic policy.  The bedroom community mandates have failed.  Let’s try something different.  Let’s give people more choices.  History shows that choice works better than mandates.

Fourth, we need to be pro-business in order to be pro-jobs.  I would like to see our industrial-commercial areas become enterprise zones and international trade zones. We need to work with the chamber of commerce (CDCC) to take advantage of grants available to businesses which export overseas.  With the Internet and parcel post services, it is an easy proposition for more businesses than we think.  There are more than 360 federal economic development programs.  Let’s have a contest with the colleges to see who can come with the best way to tap them.  I would also like us to take advantage of alternative energy and science grants.  I would also like to see a tax credit to any business anywhere in the county which expands.  The new expansion portion should be exempt from higher taxes for three years.  I would love to see start ups get a one year tax holiday.  These ideas won’t cost us money but could bring us a real return.

Fifth, we need to continue cooperation with the cities to coordinate economic development and not work contrary to one another.  The county should ensure that it plans proper infrastructure for industrial parks like the Garrison Farm.  If you don’t build it, they won’t come.  That was even true in the “Field of Dreams”.  Impact and adequate facility related fees should go into a trust fund used to for that purpose and not into the general fund.

What we are attempting to do in the Livable Delaware and the proposed Kent County Comprehensive plan hasn’t worked well for the average person and often fails at its stated goals anywhere I can find.   So why not try something smarter?  We need smart change.  

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