Within the past 24 hours, several updates have rolled in from sources within this project. Further, with this update, we hope to make sure to give full weight to all sides of the story and each party involved. To that effect, it is important to know that the developers on which we and many in the media have focused are only one of the groups making offers on this property. There are reports that the number could be as high as three or four other groups that have previously made offers, in addition to the County-State offer. Also, many of these previous bids were reportedly higher than the appraisal of $5.95 million that County Executive Matt Meyer has quoted in interviews with media outlets. Sources involved in the project state that the previous bids from other developers have ranged anywhere from $6 million to just under $7 million. Whether or not these offers are accepted is solely up to the Sisters who own the Our Lady of Grace property. They are more than happy to sell the property to the State and have a positive impact on the community, but the offer needs to be competitive compared to the offers being made by the developers. The end goal for the Sisterhood is to obtain funding for missionary projects throughout the State, and to serve their communities as best as they can.

As we explained this morning, during the late evening hours last night, County Executive Matt Meyer sent an offer of the original appraisal value of $5.95 million. That deal would spread payments from the County and State over a few years, cementing the County’s ability to build a new park in an area with no real outdoor recreation immediately available. However, because the offer is significantly lower than previous offers from developers, it is highly unlikely that the Sisters can afford to accept it without further negotiations. It is common to enter negotiations with a lower offer and work up to an acceptable offer, but that requires flexibility from both parties. With how much is at stake, and the speed at which some of these deals can move once offers have been presented, it is imperative that the County Executive remain flexible and accommodating throughout the negotiating process. These deals can be very sensitive, and projects can be scrapped if temperatures at the negotiating table get too high.

Finally, as we said before, it is important that all sides are represented fairly. To be clear, the County Council will vote for or against this park only once an offer has been accepted by the Sisters and a proposal has been presented to them. If negotiations fall through between the County Executive and the Sisters, that failure does not reflect solely upon County Council, but upon all the parties involved and is the reality surrounding these types of negotiations. If the developers keep raising their offer, the County-State partnership could be outbid. Conversely, the developers could walk away from or backpedal on their offer, and the County-State partnership could secure an even better deal. Right now, it is all on the table, and we are counting on our elected officials to work together for the best deal for their constituents.

Please continue to make telephone calls in favor of this project, but please be courteous and respectful.. Support our County Executive and State officials in the negotiating process, and ask that they continue to fight for this deal and remain diligent and flexible during the process.

A heated debate is occurring about the Our Lady of Grace Orphanage property off of West Chestnut Hill Drive in Newark. New Castle County (NCC) Government and State officials, specifically NCC Executive Matt Meyer and Senator Bryan Townsend, have been working on a deal to fund the purchase of the land to build a park, rather than developing it for mid-range-priced single-family homes. However, the land comes at quite a cost, with a price tag of about $6 million.

Currently, money is tight and expenses are high for both the State and the County since the passage of the 2017 Budget. Therefore, some people say that we cannot afford to purchase this land from under the private developers. Some NCC Council members say that even if money were no issue, the County should not get into the habit of buying land whenever developers try to build housing. Additionally, environmental groups claim that flooding risks have not been addressed or mitigated by the developers. Furthermore, the environmentalist groups add, the land is home to some endangered species of frogs and turtles, whose existence could be jeopardized further by the proposed development. It is worth noting here that in the current development deal, regardless of whether the land is purchased by either the State-County partnership or the developers, over 140 acres of the property are already protected by DNREC, and will remain as Open Space.

However, support for a park being built instead of housing is massive in the affected community, and online support is growing rapidly now that the deal is in jeopardy. Some people are upset that the County has not yet proposed a deal to the county and the Sisters, and want to know if and when this will happen. So far, the State has already promised $1.25M this year, and Senator Townsend is committed to requesting the State funds necessary for a State-County 50/50 match. Right now, it is up to the County to come up with their share, or more likely, have them negotiate a future repayment deal with the Sisters in the form of a contract. In either case, the County must act quickly or there will be no deal and all this work will be for not.

The Sisters are very open to selling the land to the State, but a deal needs to be proposed immediately. The developers’ offer has been made already, and the Council has approved their plans. Originally, the space was not allocated to the State, so the Council had little choice but to approve the plans since they are within the zoning abilities for the area. However, if a counter-deal had been proposed by the County and State, from the NCC Executive Office, the Council would have had more of a choice.

Meyer has cited both financial issues and a lack of County Council support for the proposal’s delay. However, he is hopeful that with renewed pressure in favor of the County-State buy-out, the Council will vote affirmatively if he finds the funding and makes a proposal. We hope that NCC Executive Matt Meyer will come forward with his plan very soon.While canvassing in the area last year, Delaware United members heard frequently from residents that further housing development in the area will do little to help raise the local standard of living or property values, but that a park will.

One thing is certain. Further finger-pointing and circular debate will not help the area’s residents. Instead, it will only compound divisiveness in our local government and disappoint Delawareans.

If you would like the County and State to come together to make this deal happen, please call your New Castle County Councilperson and New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and let them know that you support this purchase for a new park.

3 thoughts on “Updates Contained: Our Lady of Grace Orphanage Debate Heats Up

  1. Nancy Willing

    There is a chance to make this happen but people across the county need to make these calls NOW! If we can show support, across the state even, for preserving this vital non tidal wetland, we may be able to swing things back into place.

    The Sisters have opened the door. My conversation with a development attorney indicated that by examples, there are cases where in NCC, certain public interest concerns have swayed government to change land use plans after they have been filed.

  2. We at Save The Orphanage Property had hoped that an offer would be made – that was the focus of our group’s advocacy efforts in these last few weeks – and it has. Now, at least how we at STOP feel, it’s time to wait for the decision, ever hopeful that the County and the Sisters will come to an agreement that will benefit both the interests of the Sisters, and that of our Community. At every opportunity that we have had to speak with any of the Felician Sisters, both my mail and in person, they have been kind, respectful, and very willing to hear our very real concerns regarding drainage, the infrastructure, the wildlife, etc. They are aware that we at STOP fully support their Mission to bring affordable housing to Ogletown. They have come to discussions with the County time and time again. We have no doubt that they will seriously consider the offer that has been presented. By speaking with them, we know that they care for this community, which they have served and ministered for many years. We feel that there are many positives that we must focus on. In these last hours as we wait for a decision, we all hope that we will get the parkland that this area, as well as the wider surrounding community, needs so very much. It’s now up to the County and the Felician Sisters. Future generations are counting on their wisdom to make the best decision, for those living now, and those yet to be born (both human and wild!).

  3. Lauren

    I really hope they are able to scrap the development proposal. We don’t need more infrastructure in this area and flooding is a major concern. This would just put another nail in the cofffin of us destroying our vulnerable eco-system. This area of Sourh Newark especially needs a commitment to green space.

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