WILMINGTON, Del. – A New Castle County Council resolution that called for Council to act as the public sponsor for a $1.8 million state grant for the construction of a road adjacent to the New Castle Town Center was defeated Tuesday night in council chambers due in part to the Gordon administration’s concern with it becoming the site of a super Walmart store which could adversely affect mom and pop stores throughout the county.
The property is currently owned by a closely related company of Stoltz USA. John Tracey, attorney for Stoltz, was in attendance for the meeting.
New Castle County Chief Administrative Officer David Grimaldi told council prior to its vote that the Gordon administration was recently approached to be the municipal sponsor for this application for a Delaware New Jobs Infrastructure Grant with the Delaware Economic Development Office. The Executive Office researched the matter and determined that Greggo & Ferrara and then Stoltz had owned the property, and that plans were in the works to likely bring a super Walmart to the site.
“This is something that we can’t support,” Grimaldi said. From everything we’ve heard Walmart would in fact be the tenant. That’s one of the reasons we’re not supporting it.”
As mentioned in Resolution 13-137, Greggo & Ferrara Inc. had successfully applied to DEDO for grant funds with support from the prior Clark administration and the Delaware River and Bay Authority on behalf of the nearby New Castle County Municipal Airport. Clark’s former top aide said the grant was to be used to construct a new road at the New Castle Town Center that would connect Old and New Churchman’s Roads, upgrade Old Churchman’s Road from U.S. Route 13 to the new road, widen and add turn lanes along a quarter mile of Churchman’s Road and install a traffic light at the intersection of Churchman’s Road and the new road.
But the application process with the state had to be begin anew once the land was transferred from Greggo & Ferrara to Stoltz. State law required the local municipality, in this case New Castle County Government, to be the sponsor. When the Executive Office declined to support the new application, Councilman George Smiley (D-New Castle) attempted, in an unprecedented move, to have County Council act as the sponsor.
Smiley mentioned several times in committee and within the regular meeting in council chambers that he did not know who the tenant of New Castle Town Center would be.
Grimaldi noted that the “unclean hands” argument pertained to this property since this was a gravel pit site and the law was changed to include gravel pits within the definition of “redevelopment” along with all of the perks and benefits associated with it. That likely increased the value of this property, he added.
Furthermore, Smiley sponsored legislation to give away 2.15 acres of county land adjacent to the property in question as surplus land, Grimaldi said. Now, Stoltz was applying for nearly $2 million of state money to build a new road on our former property.
“So, our land was given away to DelDOT for free so that we could build a road right next to this Stoltz property,” he said. We think this deal still has quite a few questions and we’d like to get answers before we sign on as any kind of a sponsor.”
Grimaldi said giving away county land for free rather than making Stoltz build the road on its own land was “fiscally irresponsible.”
Councilman Jea Street (D-Wilmington South) said this resolution “was replete” with language from the former administration. In addition, Street wondered why this resolution was put on the fast track without all questions being answered.
Councilmen William Powers (D-Townsend) and Robert S. Weiner (R-Brandywine Hundred West) noted that Council had been asked to vote on this grant application although no one on council had the opportunity to see the actual application. They attempted to make a motion to table the resolution, but Smiley would not entertain it.
Nonetheless, council voted 6-5, with two abstentions, to oppose the resolution. Weiner refrained from voting while Councilman William Bell (D-Middletown) recused himself due to the fact that he was an employee at the Delaware River & Bay Authority.
During public comment, David Dunphy, a lobbyist with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 – which represents employees at Pathmark, Acme and others – said he did not know if Walmart was coming to the site in question.
“But we still have concerns over who might be coming,” Dunphy said. “I don’t want to go through a long talk on Walmart and our feelings on their record. But who that tenant is does matter. All jobs are not created equal; there are better jobs – jobs with healthcare, jobs with sustaining wages.”
After the meeting, Grimaldi said the vote was a victory for New Castle County.