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Task force releases recommendations for New Castle County land preservation

Delaware Public Media

New Castle County now has a roadmap for improving open space preservation.

County Council accepted a report from the Land Preservation Task Force Tuesday. The task force, composed of county officials, Delawareans with conservation expertise and other engaged citizens, met for more than a year.

“What we were trying to do is articulate a process for the County to pursue open space land preservation in a strategic and organized way, and to leverage existing programs and funding by working with partners in the preservation community,” said Sherri Evans-Stanton in a presentation to a County Council committee Tuesday. Evans-Stanton, who sat on the task force, leads the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club and is the former director of a land conservation organization in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. 

A quarter of the land in unincorporated New Castle County is already preserved, according to a reportby the task force released by the County Tuesday. The county's preserved land is a mix of parkland, private open space, agricultural easements and conservation easements.

In its report, the Land Preservation Task Force made more than two dozen recommendations, including creating an endowment to acquire open space, hiring a land preservation planner and further evaluating county development regulations. The task force also recommended the County create a land preservation master plan.

“So instead of being reactive as properties become available, this would be a more thoughtful process that we could look at properties throughout the county and come up with areas that we want to preserve, or types of land that we think are important to preserve,” Kendall Sommers of the County’s Department of Public Works told council members Tuesday.

Despite a majority of the committee voting to accept the report, some members expressed concerns about costs and the viability of tax referendums to pay for preservation—one of the report’s recommendations. Council also disagreed on how to move forward with the recommendations.

Tuesday's joint Land Use and Public Works Committee heard an ordinance sponsored by County Councilwoman Dee Durham that would create an Open Space Conservation Commission.

The creation of an Open Space Preservation Council—as well as an Agricultural Preservation Council—is among the task force’s recommendations. But Councilman Bill Bell took issue with Durham’s introduction of the ordinance before the task force report was completed. 

“This is a bunch of malarkey,” Bell said. “This is preemptive to the ... hard work of the task force and the departments.”

Durham defended the move as an effort to “keep the ball moving forward.”

“It was not done in a vacuum by any means,” she said. “The task force itself—its work has been done for several months. So they were not really looking at the specifics of these ordinances.”

County Executive Matt Meyer committed Tuesday to working with County Council to advance the Land Preservation Task Force’s recommendations.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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