Dover Mall bills pass Senate

DOVER — The Delaware Senate on Tuesday passed five bills aimed at revitalizing the Dover Mall. The measures would help Dover and private developers construct a direct access road to the mall from Del. Route 1, which the owners believe would draw more stores and customers.

“The Dover Mall is in jeopardy as it currently exists,” John Paradee, a lawyer representing Simon Property Group and Western Development Corp., said in January.

An aerial photo shows the Dover Mall from the intersection of U.S. 13. Mall owners want to develop 83 acres behind the mall with direct access from Del. 1. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The plan to create a road from Route 1 to an expanded plaza is on the Department of Transportation’s list of projects, although it is very low in priority. Preliminary engineering is not supposed to begin for another four years, according to DelDOT’s proposed Capital Transportation Plan.

That low placement is a problem for the mall owners.

To expedite the process, Simon Property Group and Western Development Corp. would agree to design the roadway in accordance with state standards and then turn it over to DelDOT once the work is completed by the end of 2020.

The public-private partnership, as it’s called, is allowed in state law but Mr. Paradee is unsure if it has ever been used before.

The cost of the project would be covered mostly, if not completely, by tolls. According to a study, the construction is estimated to cost around $31 million, although Mr. Paradee believes that total is high.

In case the toll funds do not cover the extent of the work, the owners could turn to tax increment financing. The method allows the owners to use the difference between the current tax assessment and the assessment after the improvements — millions, in this case — to pay off bonds used to construct the road.

Currently, only Wilmington is allowed to use tax increment financing, although the legislation passed Tuesday changes that.

Mr. Paradee said the owners have spoken to stores about setting down roots in north Dover, and businesses are receptive. But there’s a catch — they will only come if the road is constructed within the next few years.

“What they have all essentially told us is if you build it we will come,” Mr. Paradee said.

In the aerial photo of Del. 1, colored lines show the traffic pattern changes planned if a new access point is built for the Dover Mall. The pink lines show the roadway from northbound Del. 1; the red lines from southbound Del. 1 and the blue lines indicate new service roads around the mall and Dover Downs.

The expansion would add about 54,700 square feet for new stores to the current mall, while slightly shrinking Sears. Meanwhile, the 647,000-square-foot “power center” would be built between the mall and Del. 1, with thousands of new parking spaces added as well.

In the developer’s vision, the Dover Mall would look more like the Christiana Mall by the time the work is done.

The legislation, which passed the House unanimously last month, received little opposition Tuesday, although Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, did express concerns.

“Nobody really knows if it’s an additional toll, if it’s a diversion of the standard toll. Nobody knows,” he said.

The bills go to Gov. John Carney now.

Medical marijuana bill fails

A bill that would have allowed individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder to obtain medical marijuana without a psychiatrist’s approval and would have added anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions for the drug failed after lengthy debate in the Senate.

Although Senate Bill 24 received just one vote against, 10 members did not vote, leaving the proposal dead. Main sponsor Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, said she plans to introduce a replacement.

The legislation would have added “debilitating anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety” to the list of conditions. It would also have struck a provision requiring PTSD sufferers to obtain consent from a psychiatrist. No other condition requires a psychiatrist and a physician to sign off for medical marijuana.

Senators were concerned about certain aspects of the bill, with several lawmakers saying they had expected an amendment to be filed as a compromise. They were not clear as to what exactly the amendment would have done.

No amendment was introduced, creating confusion in the Senate and leading multiple members of the chamber to go “not voting” on the bill.

Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said he was hesitant to allow individuals with anxiety to receive medical marijuana without being diagnosed by a psychiatrist.

“I’m not sure a regular physician can diagnose these various disorders,” he said. “I’d probably feel much safer thinking that a psychiatrist or psychologist could diagnose those disorders much better than a family physician.”

The Medical Society of Delaware opposed the anxiety portion of the measure, and the Department of Health and Social Services also had issues with the bill.

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