Kent Delaware Land Use Issues

Kent County Delaware Residential Development Moratorium | January 20, 2007

The Kent County, Delaware, Levy Court, or county council, has imposed a moratorium prohibiting residential subdivision applications for nine months commencing immediately on January 16, 2007.

This moratorium, according to Levy Court President Brooks Banta, is designed to give the Planning Department time to update Kent County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, due this year in the current five – year cycle required by the State of Delaware.

Levy Court held no public hearings on the moratorium, and is assuming that new commissioners elected in 2006 were mandated by the voters to do something to curb residential development. Of course, market conditions have already slowed development, as prices are no longer increasing at the rate they were six to 12 months ago, listings are on the market longer by 30 to 45 days, and the absorption rate of new building lots is approximately 50 percent of last year’s rate.

The Levy Court has imposed a number of impact fees and transfer taxes on development recently, and this moratorium contradicts the goals of these fees and taxes. The local fire departments are earning impact fees on new building permits, essentially new construction permits, and will see that revenue diminish not immediately, but a year from now.

Transfer tax revenues dedicated to Emergency Services such as 911 call centers, ambulance services, and other related services, likewise will see their revenue dip later, as the effects of the moratorium become evident.

Moratoriums are bad land use policy because the effects ripple in numerous ways throughout the economy. As new construction essentially stops, or at the minimum slows down, tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, and many others are without work.

The most difficult result of moratoriums will be the effect on our public schools. The local portion of the property tax for school district revenue will be frozen as no new development is added to the assessment base. In this uneven economy, with prices going up for energy costs, with uneasy expectations for interest rates based on uncertainty relative to inflation and Federal Reserve Board policy, and the real estate market floundering at best, Levy Court might well have caused the Kent County real estate market more harm than intended.

The issue more serious than a moratorium imposed by a group of people without the proper expertise, is the way it was imposed. Government without public input is a serious breach of the public trust.

Admittedly, there are a number of people in Kent County happy about the moratorium. These folks have nothing at stake in the real estate business, such as employment. But numerous other people have much at stake.

But government has imposed it’s will without public input, and the repercussions are serious. What is next? Changes to the zoning ordinance, or subdivision ordinance, or even the updated comprehensive plan without public hearings? If Levy Court is in fact attempting to protect the public, then a public hearing would support the moratorium decision.

The refusal to host a public hearing gives the appearance that Levy Court is afraid of the public opinion.Levy Court IMposes Residential Development Moratorium

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1 Comment »

  1. Let’s get things straight. First as a developer this moratorium will cost you money. Any moratorium will cost you and those who buy properties and sell them at a higher value. Each of you will make much less money with this moratorium, than you could with no restrictions.

    That is really what this is about. I wholeheartedly support your right to challenge this law.

    However what you are up against is the negative effects that such uncontrolled development has on those citizens who must deal with the new houses, new businesses and the subsequent frustrations that eat away at the quality of their own lives. Stoplights, traffic, smog, noise, ugly skylines, all play a part in the lives of every citizen who unfortunately lives in the path of new development.

    Each Kent citizen also has a right to appeal to their government and ask them to “do something” that will keep the value of their homes from plummeting as unbridled development soars around them and their neighborhoods.

    Whereas you stand to lose thousands of dollars in commissions because of this moratorium, everyone else stands to gain millions collectively on the increase in their home’s value.

    You will no doubt roll out the argument that every person has the right to do with their land whatever they wish….. But keep in mind that even though society is made up of individuals, if ones actions threaten or cause another harm, he is not really free to continue.

    I doubt if you have ever been to Harlem. But driving through it one day, I was shocked to learn that less than a hundred years earlier, it had been pastoral farm land. So in less than one person’s lifetime, it went from farm to slums.

    How did this happen? Unregulated land use. Just to the north of you, in Bear, the same trend is continuing along route 40. Massive lines of townhomes, once the developer’s pride, now house Section 8’s and if you account for inflation, the value of each house has declined.

    You may not be concerned. But if enough of Kent County’s citizens are, then obviously the Levy Court not only has the right, but an obligation to halt development until they can decide what Kent County wishes to do.

    Wish them luck. Whatever you build will stand long after you have passed away. For each citizen to risk the investment of his house, so you can continue to prosper, seems a bit much to ask.

    Comment by kavips — January 23, 2007 @ 3:46 am


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About author

A REALTOR for 26 years, Phil McGinnis has been involved in the politics of land use for over 20 years. McGinnis has professional designations in Commercial-Investment (CCIM), Appraisal (GAA), eE-Commerce (e-PRO), and others, lives and works in Kent County, Delaware, and is an active member in the Delaware and National Association of REALTORS, as well as his community.

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