Analysis: Barley Mill voting decision leaves unanswered questions

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Leo Strine
Leo Strine

The Delaware Supreme Court last month upheld a Chancery Court decision that ruled the New Castle County Council took an arbitrary and capricious vote on the Barley Mill project.

However, the high court seemed to leave the door open to other legal moves by not ruling on other issues, including whether a traffic study was required  for the mixed use project that would include retail development on the former DuPont Co. property that still houses offices.

Both the developer Stoltz and Save Our County had sought clarification on the issues from the courts in a case that brought to light the state’s “pay to play culture”  that some see as an  influence on public policy.

The decision from new Chief Justice Leo Strine, showed flashes of the wit and lack of legal jargon that came in his Chancery Court rulings. Strine headed that court before becoming chief justice. “For many in the community, even the brightened prospect of being in closer proximity to a Cheesecake Factory and Cinnabon did not assuage their worries,” he wrote in a reference to  popular destinations at Christiana and other malls.

The court focused on Councilman Robert Weiner’s vote and whether he received incorrect advice from legal counsel on  considering traffic matters in his decision.

The dispute contributed to the victory of current County Executive Tom Gordon, who came out against the project, which had been endorsed by previous county executives. The Gordon administration has also come out against expansion by controversial retail behemoth, Wal-Mart.

The current plan for the site included a compromise with a group of residents. However, Save Our County emerged as a dominant voice among residents in an affluent area that also borders communities with a variety of income levels and housing types. One neighbor is Vice President Joe Biden.

The controversy, along with the battle over the Data Centers project in Newark and a proposed poultry processing plant in Millsboro, has left some business and political leaders concerned that the county is returning to a “closed for business” image in the region that will lead potential employers to steer clear of areas outside of  fast-growing Middletown-Oessa-Townsend.

It also remains unclear when it comes to prospects for retail development at the site, although discount retailers, such as Target and perhaps upscale grocers like Whole Foods and chain restaurants would be likely candidates.

Recent expansion of the Christiana Mall area off Interstate 95 could also play a role in landing prospects for Barley Mill, even if a plan could be pushed through the council or courts.

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  1. We need business and we need quality of life. The two must learn how to work together so the one isn’t moved forward without the other. Downstate is one matter, a chicken processing plant. Quality of water is vitally important, and the air as well. The retail desired at Barley Mill is quite different in scope, and possibly more complicated. Let’s hope the parties and government entities can reach reasonable and desirable outcomes for all involved.

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