Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, a series of agencies were organized for the purpose of dealing with the increasingly complex issues related to land management in Delaware. As a result, one key opportunity for members of the public to participate in land use decisions was the formation of the Preliminary Land Use Service.
The service operates out of the Office of State Planning Coordination. Its mission is to help coordinate the work of state agencies and project developers before major land use changes come before local governments for approval. Importantly for the public at large, its work is transparent and readily available, online and by direct contact. It’s the one major chance the state offers the public to assess the scope and characteristics of large-scale land use proposals well in advance of public hearings on the matter.
Right now, a bill is making its way through the General Assembly that, if allowed to pass, will begin unraveling this invaluable service to the regulating agencies and people of Delaware. According to House Bill 104, an economic development project creating full-time jobs, consistent with local comprehensive plans and ordinances, and located at least partially in state investment levels 1 or 2 would no longer have to go through the PLUS review.
At first glance, the effect on job creation in the state might make this seem a sound proposal. But note that the wording of HB 104 means the exemption would apply if any part of a proposed project falls within levels 1 or 2. In effect, that leaves every one of the four investment levels in the state potentially open to development without the benefit of the Preliminary Land Use Service review.
It’s difficult to understand how our state legislators can support such a bill. And, because the official summary of the bill oddly makes no mention of the “located at least partially” aspect of the exemption, it’s difficult to believe the public understands the bill either.
HB 104 would put an end to any effective public participation in major land use decision-making. There is often precious little time between the announcement of a public hearing on applications for large-scale land use and the hearing itself. Without the PLUS information and the public inquiry afforded well in advance of these hearings, opportunity for the public to think and respond sensibly will be reduced to minuscule at best.
On April 6, the House of Representatives passed HB 104. I urge the Senate, in the strongest terms, to not let this flawed bill go any further and to stop this erosion of public and state agency power right now.
I urge everyone to contact their state senators and demand another, disapproving look at HB 104.