Our Lady of Grace Property- A Letter from Senator Bryan Townsend and Representative Ed Osienski

This page is about the journey of unsuccessful efforts to purchase most of the Our Lady of Grace orphanage property along Route 4 in southern Newark for public parkland.  As the state legislators for this area, we want to make sure residents are aware of what happened.

Sadly, the journey did not result in a park.  But it has led to support for restoring State funding of open-space programs, and insisting that the State and New Castle County begin coordinating on traffic studies, infrastructure planning, and land-use decisions.

In Summer 2017, several news stories quoted us while the prospect of a public park dimmed and then disappeared.  Here, we provide details about what happened and when.  This is especially meant for Route 4 residents who wonder why this beautiful land is being developed and why they lack the access to parkland that many other New Castle County residents enjoy.

The story begins in May 2013 and ends in January 2018.  These details are told from our perspective.

In the final days and weeks, the failure came down to the unwillingness of senior County officials to coordinate with the landowner (the Felician Sisters) and make a reasonable proposal that was a win-win for everyone.

This land was deeply important to us.  Senator Townsend grew up in the Breezewood I neighborhood next to the land and now lives nearby off of Old Baltimore Pike.  Until only weeks ago, for thirty years Representative Osienski had lived in the Scottfield neighborhood just to the west of the land, and now lives in the Christinas Brace neighborhood where his yard connects to the woods on the east of the property.

We often wonder if we could have done anything differently.  Would it have helped if we had held a public meeting in 2013 or 2014?  We do not believe so.  In 2013, from the get-go we had opposed any plan for major construction, yet the Felician Sisters insisted they focus on applying for tax credits for 60 apartments before really talking about whether the State/County might buy the rest of the land.  When the Sisters won the tax credits in 2015 and held a public meeting just weeks later, they immediately heard the public opposition we’d told them would come.  They then engaged with State/County officials for more than 2 years on how to save the rest of the land but still allow the Sisters to build 60 apartments.  Unfortunately, the Sisters never received a timely, complete proposal.

We also believed the best way to find funding to buy the land was to speak with key decision makers rather than make lots of public noise.  We answered constituents’ questions about the project in the months after we first found out ourselves, and we let neighborhood leaders know about the Sisters’ plans.  We focused on doing our work quietly to avoid competing proposals.  In fact, once the media started covering the issue in Spring 2017, some members of County Council began expressing opposition to our request.  Those members explained that their own constituents had read the news article and had begun calling about possible park projects in their own districts.

Most frequently, we now wonder if we could have saved the land with State funds only.  We had locked in $250,000 from the Open Space Council in late 2016 and then in July 2017 locked in another $1.25 million in the State’s 2018 capital budget.  Our State colleagues approved those funds knowing the State would need to provide more money in the coming years as part of a 50-50 partnership with the County.  We thought this State down-payment would be enough to spark County action.  Shockingly, the County never took steps to spend, appropriate, or prepare for any funding at all.

County officials would tell residents about pressures with the County operating budget, even though purchase of the land would have involved capital budget funds.  Ultimately the Sisters could not bear additional delays for their plans, especially with no sign of real progress at the County level.

In hindsight, it seems clear that the State would have had a better chance of buying the land solo over a 5+ years at a low interest rate.  (The Sisters really were willing to be quite reasonable.)  But we did not know this until it was too late. By then, State legislative session had ended for the year.  County promises had failed to translate into County action.  And the Sisters simply had to move on.

The 2016 Election and the transition in County government naturally caused a reset on discussions.  But most critical was the rigid, unreasonable idea from County officials in Summer 2017 that the purchase price should be no higher than a June 2016 appraisal of $5.95 million.  The County refused to budge from that stale June 2016 appraisal, even though we pleaded with them to accept an updated appraisal or at least go modestly above the stale 2016 one.

In August 2017, just weeks after the opportunity was gone, the property was appraised for $7 million.  The developer was able to buy it for $6.35 million.  The County/State could have had it for closer to $6.25 million.

The use of a stale appraisal was a disservice to the Route 4 community.  County officials spoke as if exceeding “appraised value” would be unethical — but they never explained that they were using a stale appraisal.  And they did not agree with us that the enormous public benefit would justify a higher price.

The County did not respect the Sisters’ first priority of receiving apartment approval.  And the County’s formal proposals were too little, too late.  After lengthy meetings with the Sisters, County took many days to send around drafts of proposals.  A key deadline of August 3, 2017 was completely missed by 4-5 days, and only then – once it was too late – did the County actually include key terms such as interest rates for multi-year payments, how to transfer portions of land with each yearly payment, and how to share the costs for shared roads.  These were topics that had been discussed many times with the Sisters, but for whatever reason the County was slow to include them in draft proposals.

In the detailed list below, we are more specific about which officials played what roles at what times.  Here, the County officials we refer to are County Executive Matt Meyer, County Councilwoman Lisa Diller, and members of County staff who attended the meetings.  We came to realize in July 2017 news stories that several members of County Council did not seem to have been given the kinds of details about the park from County officials that might have earned their support.

We are certain that other individuals will have their own perspectives on what happened.  The details below paint a picture that each person can interpret for herself or himself.

Moving forward, some residents will focus on the traffic impact.  Others will focus on how beautiful a park this could have been, located amidst densely populated working-class neighborhoods, for children, families, and retirees to enjoy the exact way public parks are meant to be enjoyed.

It is unfortunate that some friendships or working relationships have not survived these events.  A main reason for this is because of how committed we were to being honest with the public about what was happening and about who had the authority to make the key decisions that were never made.  We pressed hard to try and get this park.  Some officials did not welcome our persistence on behalf of constituents.

Below we provide as much detail as possible, based on our thorough review of the emails and letters we sent and received.  We are deeply saddened that we were not successful in our efforts to secure this land as parkland.  Every time we pass by this land we think of what could and should have been, for so many generations to come.

Moving forward, our focus will include sustaining open-space funding at the State level, and forging a more effective and common-sense balance between individual County land-use decisions and the longer-term liability of the State to update infrastructure accordingly.

We post these details now in case someday a resident or government official can learn from them and take firm hold of future opportunities to leave lasting legacies on Newark and the world.

Sincerely,

Senator Bryan Townsend & Representative Ed Osienski

February 2, 2018

 

Detailed Timetable 

May 2013

Senator Townsend and Representative Osienski were invited to meet the Felician Sisters at the orphanage on May 13, 2013 and to hear about a proposed affordable-housing plan they were putting together for a portion of the property.  The Sisters asked Townsend/Osienski for any assistance we could provide with their application to the Delaware State Housing Authority for federal tax credits.  We decided not to support their application, and indicated we did not think affordable housing was the best use of the property for the broader community.  We did note, though, that opposing affordable housing could be misconstrued as not supporting people who could use that kind of helping hand, and so we focused our efforts on the issue of curtailing the broader housing development.  We indicated that the Route 4 community was not likely to be pleased with the idea of any kind of housing development at that location.  We do not recall when parkland/etc. was first mentioned.  We do recall us noting at some point that even a Boys & Girls Club, sports fields, or some kind of rec center would be better for the area, particularly for the children of the Rt. 4 corridor.   In late May, we began the process of linking DNREC up with the Sisters, to visit their land and learn more about the unique flora and fauna.

June 2013

The Sisters’ DSHA application was declined with a low score; the project had no momentum.

October 2013

On October 13, 2013, we met with the Felician Sisters and DNREC to discuss the environmentally sensitive aspects of the property, and the possibility of DNREC playing a role in preserving part or all of the property.  The Sisters agreed about the importance of environmental protection, but they made it clear that their priority was on making sure they would be able to build their 60 apartments (which, based on density/zoning, meant the entire housing plan would have to be submitted).

November 2013 – May 2014

We did not have meetings during this timeframe.  The project essentially was stalled, as the Sisters had not received any federal tax credits and planned to apply again in June 2014.

June 2014

The Sisters reapplied with DSHA, again without the support of Townsend/Osienski.  Townsend/Osienski emphasized to DSHA tax credits should be tied to low-income senior housing, not simply low-income housing generally.  The Sisters’ application again was declined with a low score; the project had no momentum yet again.

July 2014 – April 2015

The Sisters did not engage us.  Again, the project seemed to be headed nowhere after the low DSHA score.  On behalf of the disability community in Delaware, in January 2015 Representative Osienski lets the Sisters know that major funders are interested in the possibility of acquiring the land to be used as a resource for Delawareans with disabilities.  The Sisters did not provide a response to this inquiry until late March 2015, emphasizing that they would not be able to discuss these kinds of options until finding out the results of a third application to DSHA.

April 2015 – June 2015

The Sisters did not reach out to Townsend/Osienski.  On April 28, the Sisters’ new project consultant reached out to Councilwoman Diller and New Castle County to seek funding through the HOME program, explaining to Councilwoman Diller that having this funding will help the Sisters receive a higher score on their upcoming DSHA application.  That evening, County Council did not discuss any concerns about the project, but did vote to provide the Sisters with $150,000 in funding.  On April 29, Councilwoman Diller sent news of this decision to Townsend/Osienski – the first time we heard anything about it.  In June 2015, the Sisters were successful in winning the federal tax credits from DSHA essential to their apartment project.

July 2015

On July 2, 2015, we received word that the Sisters’ application scored high enough to receive the tax credits (along with the HOME support from the County, but without any support from Townsend/Osienski).  On July 20, Townsend/Osienski sent an email to the Sisters expressing opposition to the idea of the major housing development, and expressing hope that the Sisters would be willing to work towards a different outcome.  On July 23, the Sisters held a public meeting at Holy Family Church to discuss the preliminary concept of the affordable apartments and the housing development.  The meeting was facilitated by the Sisters, their attorneys and consultants, and Councilwoman Lisa Diller.  Townsend/Osienski were not scheduled to be participants, and we did not receive any head’s up about the agenda for the meeting or how it would be conducted.  Several hundred local residents attended the meeting, and most were opposed to the project.  Townsend/Osienski spoke publicly and indicated that we did not support the project.

August 2015 – December 2015

Townsend/Osienski immediately worked with DNREC to have the pond/wet-woods area designated as a Natural Area, thereby enhancing the protections.  This was finalized on December 3, 2015. We pushed to have the construction plans changed so that new roads would not connect through Todd Estates II and through Breezewood I.  A scaled-down plan, including fewer roadway disruptions, was provided to Councilwoman Diller on December 14, 2015.  On December 19, 2015, Townsend/Osienski sent an email to the Sisters asking for a formal response to the preliminary proposal of the public acquiring the open space.

January 2016 – September 2016

On January 8, 2016, the Sisters meet with Townsend/Osienski and Councilwoman Diller regarding the possibility of public acquisition.  Throughout January, Townsend/Osienski engaged with DNREC about the possibility of the State playing a role in an acquisition.  DNREC indicated preliminary interest in providing funding to the County to assist with a County acquisition.  On February 12, 2016, the Sisters met again with Townsend/Osienski and Councilwoman Diller to continue to discuss the possibility.  Townsend/Osienski continued to press for a discussion between DNREC and County, including securing a meeting with County Executive Tom Gordon.  On March 8, the Sisters again met with Townsend/Osienski and Councilwoman Diller.  On March 24, Townsend/Osienski confirmed DSHA’s approval that the Sisters could have additional time to use their tax credits (to give State/County more time to work out an acquisition).  The Sisters continued to go through the County land-use process, and were generally favorable to the idea of public acquisition but did not confirm they definitely would sell the property.  Over this timeframe, Townsend/Osienski had several conversations and meetings with County Executive Tom Gordon and Councilwoman Diller.  There was no specific progress towards an acquisition.  There were general positive comments about the possibility of an acquisition, but nothing specific.  The two major issues seemed to be (1) availability of funding to make the acquisition, and (2) concern that someone might sue the County for interfering with the Sisters’ plans (it is important to note that the development was by-right, meaning the Sisters did not need to undertake a rezoning and so there was limited influence the County could have).  The concern about avoiding even the possibility of a lawsuit was particularly important to County Executive Gordon, given the ongoing election for County Executive between himself and Matt Meyer.  We remained hopeful that after the 2016 Election we could finalize an acquisition, free of concern about how any lawsuit (which was not a real risk anyway, since the Sisters would be willing sellers) would impact the election.  On June 14, County Executive Gordon contacted local advocates to say that he had inserted $3.5 million into the County’s capital budget, but this was not communicated to the State level, nor did it become a focus of any conversations Townsend/Osienski heard about from the County side.  (In other words, it either did not actually occur or was not shared with anyone who felt the funds would actually be available).  DNREC did complete an appraisal of the property in June 2016 (at $5.95 Million), but the State did not fund Open Space at all in the budget passed on July 1, 2016.  No additional conversations occurred until September 2016.

September 2016 – March 2017

An update phone call between Townsend/Osienski and the Sisters occurred on September 2.  As soon as Matt Meyer defeated Tom Gordon in the September 13, 2016 Democratic Primary, Townsend/Osienski began letting Mr. Meyer know about the details of the possibility of parkland.  We had additional meetings with DNREC and County staff, before Mr. Meyer took office, and learned that an acquisition of this land for parkland would make for a unique connection of land parcels throughout the South Newark area.  After the November election, County Executive-Elect Meyer’s transition team also noted the importance of this land.  Throughout all these conversations, the proposed deal focused on a 50-50 State-County partnership, where purchase funding would be shared equally and the County ultimately would operate the land as a regional county park. On December 7, 2016, Townsend/Osienski were successful in coordinating with DNREC to obtain $250,000 in funding from the Open Space Council for public acquisition/easement.  During this time period, however, the Sisters would not focus on a sale, as instead they focused on completing the County approval process so they would know they could build their 60 affordable apartment units.  They spoke generally about being willing to sell, but they always emphasized that any sale must include the possibility of building 60 affordable-income apartments.  Unfortunately, under County law, ironically the Sisters were not permitted to build their apartments only and leave the rest as open space (due to density requirements).  On January 31, 2017, DNREC spoke with the Sisters and confirmed that the Sisters believed July 2017 was when they would finalize their County approval and be in a position to sell to the public.  The project appeared to continue to move forward, angering many local residents.  There was not a clear path towards confirming for the Sisters that they could build their apartments with approval from the County and still sell the rest of the land to the public.  Townsend/Osienski made additional outreach to gauge interest from private environmental groups to provide financial support.  On March 13, Townsend/Osienski met with DelDOT about how DelDOT’s traffic impact study indicated intersection failures. DelDOT noted that the County has the discretion to approve the project even with intersection failures, given that DelDOT was not able to recommend cost-feasible changes to the Route 4 corridor.

April 2017

Townsend/Osienski had an update phone call with the Sisters on April 4, with efforts to connect the Sisters with the County.  The County scheduled a call with Townsend/Osienski on April 10 to provide a general update.  Unknown to Townsend/Osienski, County Executive Meyer had held a call with the Sisters on April 9, at which point the Sisters expressed the opportunity for the public to acquire the remainder of the property if the County was willing to submit approval for the apartments to be constructed separately from the rest of any housing development plan.  (Meaning, if the County would agree to waive density requirements, something that all residents of Route 4 would be very happy with).  Townsend/Osienski were made aware of this option on April 12 from the Sisters, after seeing emails from April 11 that show County attorneys focusing not on the possible path forward but instead on emphasizing that no specific decision had been reached on the April 9 phone call between County and the Sisters.  On April 11, the Sisters requested clarification from County regarding what County might be able to do to assist with density requirements and improve the chances that the Sisters could sell to the public.  The Sisters received no response from County.  Later in April, the Sisters decided to enter a contract with a housing developer to sell the land, though the Sisters retained the option to sell to the County/State if a deal could be finalized within a few months.

May 2017 to June 2017

On May 18, the Sisters indicated that the County still had yet to confirm what solution might be possible to promote public acquisition.  Townsend/Osienski asked the Sisters what kind of framework and funding from the State would be necessary to encourage the Sisters to sell the open space to the public.  On May 19, Osienski met with County officials to gauge any progress.  Then, at a May 19 meeting on the land with local residents, County Executive Meyer told residents he would help purchase the property if the County’s proposed Responsible Contractor Ordinance (RCO) passed.  On May 26, Townsend spoke with the Sisters via phone to develop a path forward.  On May 31, County Executive Meyer hosted a meeting with Townsend/Osienski, Councilwoman Diller, County staff, and the Sisters.  Various options were discussed, and the parties generally seemed optimistic that a deal could be completed.  Unfortunately, it took six days (June 6) for the County to send the Sisters a proposed framework for acquisition, which did not include the kind of expedited, flexible approach that would ensure the Sisters could still build their apartments even if they sold the rest of the land to the public.  Importantly, there was no guarantee for the Sisters as to how quickly a rezoning would happen; the County said the Sisters would have to pay for rezoning costs; and the County did not commit to provide any funding for the land acquisition.  This was very different from the kind of agreement the Sisters and Townsend/Osienski had anticipated from the May 31 meeting.  The Sisters expressed their concerns about this sudden change in an email on June 6, emphasizing that if the County actually wanted to help acquire the land it would take a different approach, and that the Sisters did not want to delay (time or cost) the construction of their 60 apartment units.  On June 12, the State prepared a first draft of language for the Bond Bill to try and secure initial funding for public acquisition.  On June 13, the County Council passed its RCO, which was legislation that County Executive Meyer had told many constituents, as well as Townsend/Osienski, was the key to the County pledging funding to acquire land from the Sisters.  The Sisters, County, and Townsend/Osienski met again on June 14 to discuss the County’s June 6 letter and what next-steps might be possible.    Senator Townsend expressed that the County should focus on the total set of issues the Sisters were concerned about, and not simply on the source of funding.  To help County focus on more than just the funding, Townsend emphasized that he would try to get as much State funding as possible, to the point where County would not necessarily have to make a payment for the land.  This did not mean that the State expected to fund the entirety of the project itself, particularly given that the County recently had passed its RCO, that County Executive Meyer had promised to provide funding for the Sisters’ property, and that a 50-50 partnership had been discussed for years.  After a lengthy meeting, the parties again anticipated a proposed framework from the County that would give the Sisters certainty that they could build their 60 apartment units.  On June 15, County Executive Meyer asked Townsend/Osienski for the June 2016 land appraisal completed by DNREC.  County Executive Meyer received the June 2016 appraisal the next day.  Also on June 16, the Sisters wrote the County to express concern that the County had not yet sent an updated proposal to the Sisters.  However, on June 16 the County Executive sent a letter to local advocates noting that conversations were underway.  Further on June 16, Townsend/Osienski contacted State officials to determine whether the State could step in and provide the kind of flexibility the Sisters had been asking from the County, regarding the zoning process that would enable a public sale while confirming approval for construction of just the 60 apartment units.  On June 20, Townsend/Osienski asked County if we could be of any assistance in helping County revise their offer to the Sisters.  Finally, one week after the June 14 meeting with the Sisters, on June 21 the County sent the Sisters an amended proposal.  On June 30, the Sisters responded to the County, explaining how the County still had not crafted an offer that provided the Sisters with the confidence they would be able to build their 60 apartments, nor did the County include a specific purchase price.  The issue of purchase price was becoming more important as the weeks passed, given that the housing developer would soon make his final purchase price offer.

July 3, 2017

On July 3, the State passed its 2018 Bond Bill (capital budget).  Included in the Bond Bill was $1.25 million for purchase of the Sisters’ property, alongside the $250,000 already committed from the Open Space Council.  This total of $1.5 million from the State was appropriated by the Bond Bill Committee after a public committee discussion about how Townsend/Osienski had not yet seen finalized purchase terms from the County but that the State would need to be a 50-50 partner with the County somewhere around $3 million each, over the course of 3-5 years (for a total purchase price of approximately $6 million, subject to change in the coming weeks).  The Bond Bill approved $1.25 million in funding, knowing that this would be the general framework.  This result was only due to the exhaustive advocacy of Townsend/Osienski, the support of many key state legislators, and the fiery outreach of grassroots advocates and local residents.  Also, importantly, the Bond Bill language was crafted to exempt the Sisters from zoning requirements if they were to sell the rest of the property to the public, which would mean the Sisters would be able to receive expedited and flexible County confirmation/approval of the apartment construction.

July 7 – July 16, 2017

A meeting with County and Townsend/Osienski was scheduled for July 7.  On Sunday, July 9, County Executive Meyer, Councilwoman Diller, and Senator Townsend met with local advocates, at which time Meyer/Diller indicated the possibility of trying to delay the Sisters’ plan recording at the July 11 Council meeting.  Senator Townsend indicated that this was not likely to be a positive step, since the Sisters were going to receive approval soon anyway and that such an unnecessary delay would likely cause them to question whether the County truly wanted to be a productive partner in negotiations.  On July 10, the County and Townsend/Osienski met with the Sisters to discuss next-steps, now that the State had appropriated enough funding for a down-payment on the purchase.  Several different options were discussed, including how to structure a transaction that would enable the Sisters to record their open space plan the following day (July 11) but then immediately undertake an expedited approval process by County Council to confirm that the Sisters could develop only their apartments and sell the rest of the land to the State/County.  On July 11, Councilwoman Diller sought to delay the recording of the plan at the Council meeting, a decision that was rejected strongly as out-of-order by her Council colleagues.  The Sisters became furious at a meritless effort by Councilwoman Diller and the County Executive’s staff to delay the possibility of constructing the apartments.  News coverage indicated Meyer/Diller declared the possibility of public acquisition dead, but the Sisters and several members of County Council indicated that the issue of plan recording was entirely separate from the sale of the open space — just as the Sisters had been saying for many months.  On July 12, County Executive Meyer began sending an email to area residents stating an entirely new interpretation of what had been happening the past several weeks, including that the State had suddenly promised to fund all of the park and that the Council did not support the park.  The first point was entirely false, and the second point was never a question that the Council was given a chance to answer; their vote against Councilwoman Diller’s delay tactic for plan recording was completely separate from the issue of appropriating money to acquire parkland.  On July 13, Townsend/Osienski began discussions with DelDOT about what infrastructure cost-savings the Sisters might qualify for if the development was only 60 apartments instead of hundreds of homes.  The initial estimates were provided to the Sisters as part of trying to negotiate a public acquisition, with or without County support.  Also on July 13, Townsend/Osienski began calling members of County Council and were told that the members had not heard details from Meyer/Diller about what a land acquisition might look like.  Further on July 13, County Executive Meyer circulated another draft proposal to acquire the Sisters’ land, asking for comment from Townsend/Osienski and Councilwoman Diller.  Townsend/Osienski provided same-day responses about why the letter was insufficient to address the Sisters’ concerns.  Later that evening, several email chains showed County Council members upset at the County Executive and Councilwoman Diller for the July 11 events and how inappropriate they appeared.  Also later the evening of July 13, County Executive Meyer sent an updated proposal to the Sisters but did not include the key suggestions from Townsend/Osienski.  The Sisters reacted to the letter as had feared: that it was not a serious proposal, and it came from County officials who did not seem to be listening to the Sisters’ priorities and concerns.  Over the next several days, Townsend/Osienski communicated with the Sisters to try and maintain open lines of communication for the possibility of still structuring a deal.  On July 15, the Sisters sent a detailed email to County Executive Meyer, explaining exactly why the recent County letter still did not address their concerns.  Most importantly, the County’s July 13, 2017 offer was based on an old, June 2016 appraisal price that was significantly below what other buyers were willing to pay, and the July 13 offer did not explain how the land purchase/transition was to occur. The July 13 offer also did not address the issue of possible shared expenses (such as entrance from Route 4) that could help to reduce the purchase price.  The Sisters continued to emphasize that a $5.95 million purchase price was insufficient, although the final price could be relatively close to that number.  Most importantly, as a charitable organization serving many communities across the country, the Sisters simply wanted to ensure they could break even on the transaction, not lose money.  They emphasized many times that they would be open to taking a lower price from the County/State than the higher price from a private developer, so long as the final purchase price hit a break-even number.  Shortly after receiving their email on July 15, County Executive Meyer expressed displeasure at the Sisters’ continued concerns, and he instructed his team to “put their pencils down” until the Sisters made a formal counter-offer.  Confused by what the County Executive was missing from the Sisters’ counteroffers in the past, that same afternoon Senator Townsend sent an email to all parties outlining a proposed framework that he believed would reflect a deal fair to all sides.  Unfortunately, faced with no specific offer from the County to match State funding in a way that still permitted the apartments, the Sisters were forced to grant the housing developer the final choice of whether to purchase the land.  On July 16, Senator Townsend spoke with Councilwoman Diller about how helpful it would be if she would introduce a County resolution expressing support for the land acquisition, so that the Sisters could see the many Council members willing to vote YES on the resolution.  Councilwoman Diller refused to introduce a resolution or to support any other Council member doing so.

July 21, 2017

Councilwoman Lisa Diller sent an email to her constituents, including the Route 4 community, announcing that she was giving up any hope and effort to support the acquisition of the Sisters’ land.  Councilwoman Diller emphasized it would be inappropriate to pay more than $5.95 million — the stale, appraised value from June 2016, more than twelve months earlier.  The Sisters contacted Townsend/Osienski to let us know that although this kind of email gave little reason to believe the County would be part of an acquisition, it did seem possible that the housing developer would come back and request a decrease to the purchase price.  If the developer requested a lower price, the Sisters would be allowed to reengage the County/State in discussions about a public purchase, though the discussions would have to move quickly.

July 25, 2017

Townsend/Osienski spoke with the Sisters about the details of a counteroffer they would propose.  It appeared a final window of opportunity might open briefly, and that the State/County could still work with the Sisters on a purchase.

August 1-9, 2017

On August 1, the Sisters tried to call Senator Townsend and County Executive Meyer for a teleconference.  County Executive Meyer refused to participate in a joint teleconference, and so the Sisters spoke with him before calling Senator Townsend.  The Sisters and County Executive Meyer discussed the Sisters’ specific counteroffer, and the Sisters then called and shared with Senator Townsend the details of an agreement they had reached with County Executive Meyer.  County Executive Meyer agreed to send an updated proposal letter to the Sisters by Thursday, August 3, and to include all the key terms.  On August 2, County Executive Meyer and Senator Townsend spoke via phone regarding this proposal.  County Executive Meyer made new requests for Senator Townsend about future Bond Bill funding, and Senator Townsend began developing confirmation to meet that request.  County Executive Meyer refused getting an updated appraisal that could serve as the basis for a purchase price closer to what the Sisters were requiring. Instead, County Executive Meyer continued insisting that an appraisal from June 2016 was the number to use in determining whether government was being open and transparent.  August 3 came and went with no proposal from County Executive Meyer to the Sisters.  On August 4, the Sisters indicated to Senator Townsend that County Executive Meyer had said he would send the proposal later that day or over the weekend of August 5-6.  Unfortunately, no proposal was sent to the Sisters until the late evening hours of Monday, August 7 or the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 8.  By then, the Sisters had held a critical weekend meeting to determine which direction to move.  And, the proposal County Executive Meyer sent on August 7-8 still did not address all of the agreed-upon issues.  It was too-little, too-late, and the Sisters had to move forward with a developer that was willing to work more closely and sincerely with them in helping them to guarantee their apartment plan.

August 24, 2017

DNREC received the updated appraisal – putting the value of the land at $7 million, well above the $5.95 million County Executive Meyer and Councilwoman Lisa Diller were insisting was the appropriate value.

August 31, 2017

The Sisters and the home developer finalized the last details of their contract, and the closing of the transaction was anticipated for several weeks into the Fall.

November 2017

The transaction closed; the land transitioned from the Sisters to the developer.

December 11, 2017

Townsend met with the developer to discuss whether there is any possibility of a sale to the public, and provided an immediate update to Osienski, who had to attend an important medical appointment.

December 18, 2017

Senator Townsend spoke with County Executive Meyer regarding the possibility of a sale at $7.14 million.  There appeared to be a chance of a sale, if the State and County could coordinate decisively and quickly.  County Executive Meyer requested written confirmation that the developer was willing to sell, as well as details regarding what the shared infrastructure obligations might be with the Sisters’ apartment units if the County/State did acquire the property.

Thru January 2018

The developer did not respond quickly to Senator Townsend’s emails over the holiday season. Finally, the developer examined the possibility of a sale and decided that he would prefer to move ahead with development of the land.  The developer invited future conversations with Townsend/Osienski regarding State support for improving trail access/maintenance in the wooded area so that the public can have some recreational enjoyment of the forested portion of the land.

One thought on “Our Lady of Grace Property- A Letter from Senator Bryan Townsend and Representative Ed Osienski”

  1. Bill Treible says:

    The church knew what it was going to do years ago. Nothing more than an outrageous offer would have changed that. Thanks to Ed and Bryan for all your time and hard work in this matter.

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