Sunday, October 31, 2004

Wow! We're Famous Here in Lil' Ole Lewes

The great city of Lewes, Delaware, is mentioned in a recent edition of the Quad-City Times Newspaper in Milwaukee. Of course, from their perspective, we're just a tiny burg somewhere on the east coast.

The story reports on a recent conference -- Urban Waterfronts 22: Gathering By the Waters -- put on by The Waterfront Center. Officials from Davenport , Iowa, were on hand to try to earn about how to spruce-up their waterfront.

One the case studies presented, apparently, was the story of how Lewes' old Boatyard Property is becoming a canal-front park. The Waterfront Center was, I think, among the consultants on the project. John Mateyko, of Lewes, who worked on this project and continues in a leadership role, appears to have been in Milwaukee for the conference and is quoted in the story. It caught my eye as a member of the Lewes Planning Commission; this story was the first big, controversial issue I faced as a newcomer to the Commission.

Our story, as presented at the conference, is how Lewes' citizenry "managed to outmaneuver a high-powered developer" whose development proposal included "a hotel, parking ramp and commercial space on the town's last remaining large piece of open waterfront." I don't remember a hotel as part of the proposal, I'm thinking it was residential units, but no matter. I also question whether it was the last open waterfront land.
"The developer was a big-league guy in town who knew everyone, and everyone thought his project was politically greased and would go through," Mateyko said. "All that was true, except that it didn't go through."
Hmmm. I don't know whether the project was politically greased or not, but it was appropriately zoned, which meant that our only decision point was whether or not to recommend approval of the site plan to City Council. That approval was supposed to be based on whether or not that site plan met all of the technical requirements in our code.

The Planning Commission voted to recommend denial. Council went along with that recommendation and we were all served with papers in a lawsuit.

That is the point at which the lobbying went into high gear. Eventually, the citizen organization collected sufficient pledges from area residents, and from the state government, to allow the city to buy the property and satisfy the property owner, who dropped the suit.

This has been a positive outcome for the City, but I argue that we cannot get into the habit of buying our way out of situations in which projects can legally proceed, but are politically unpopular. This could get very expensive.

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