New Castle seeks way to prod developers to improve parks

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Kelley Cox / Post Independent
Staff Photo |

NEW CASTLE — The Town Council here is looking for ways to encourage developers not only to dedicate park land as part of the development review process but to pay for improvements to those parks, too.

Currently, the town’s land use codes require developers to turn over 10 percent of a project’s land for parks and open space in return for development approvals. The park land dedication fee applies only to subdivisions, not to lot splits.

But, said Town Attorney Dave McConaughy, the code does not require developers to build improvements in those parks, once they are turned over to the town.

And while there has been virtually no new development in town in the past several years due to the sluggish economy, council members indicated that when the economy does turn around and development begins anew, they want to have codes in place that accomplish the town’s goals. This is to include the need to have parks ready for public use when a development project is finished.

“The question really is, how can we get more stuff built that everybody can actually use?” McConaughy remarked, noting that the ideas he was expressing came primarily from a recent discussion among members of the town’s Parks, Open Space and Trails Commission that he attended.

He suggested one possible route would be to bump up the code’s park land dedication requirement from 10 percent to 15 percent.

Then, if practical, the town could negotiate with a developer to reduce that percentage in return for a commitment to make improvements to the park, McConaughy said. He later pointed out that the policy will have the greatest impact on larger projects seeking annexation, rather than small projects within existing town boundaries.

“The idea would be to incentivize [encourage developers to go along], especially if you had a lot of small projects,” he said, adding that it may be possible to get two or more proponents of small projects to band together to create a new park centrally situated among their projects.

Councilor Greg Russi, however, attended the same meeting and said he differed with McConaughy’s conclusions.

Russi said the recommendation was to increase the open space requirement from 10 percent to 12 percent, then drop it to, say, 8 percent in negotiations with the developers.

He pointed out that his idea would result in a 20 percent hike in the park land dedication requirement, where McConaughy’s idea represents a 50 percent hike.

Others on the council differed in their interpretations of the matter.

“I’m not sure that 15 percent is the wrong number,” said Councilor Bruce Leland, explaining that it might improve the town’s bargaining position with developers.

Councilor Bob Gordon, on the other hand, felt it might be better to stick at the 10 percent requirement, and negotiate from there.

“I think that 10 percent would still work,” he told his fellow councilors. “I don’t think we want to raise that.”

Councilor Patrick Stuckey agreed with Russi, that the park land dedication requirement should be raised to no more than 12 percent.

After further discussion, the council directed planner Tim Cain to come up with a list of potential modifications to the town’s codes, which McConaughy can then use to begin drafting amendments to the town’s land use codes.

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