Baumbach Bill Would Give Local Governments More Control in Local Zoning Decisions

HB 6 would require University of Delaware land development to follow local zoning laws if project doesn’t have student-related or academic purpose


NEWARK – Citing a need to give local governments more control over local zoning issues, Rep. Paul Baumbach filed legislation Tuesday that would modify a law central to a decades-old court decision regarding land owned by the University of Delaware.

In a 1973 case, the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled that land owned by the university is “within the exclusive control” of UD’s Board of Trustees and that UD’s development plans for such land is “generally… immune from local zoning ordinances.” Under that decision, the university – which owns property throughout the state – could build anything it wants on its land without being subjected to local zoning laws. The university is subject to all health and safety ordinances.

House Bill 6 would allow the University of Delaware to maintain its exclusive land development rights – and still be immune to local zoning laws – as long as the planned development relates to structures associated with providing for student services or academic research. Examples of accepted uses include student instruction, student residence, student dining, student parking, student athletics or academic research.

Under the bill, any development plans that don’t conform to one of those accepted uses would need to follow the local government’s zoning ordinances.

“The University of Delaware has been a great partner in every community where it owns property, including Dover, Georgetown, Lewes, Newark and Wilmington,” said Rep. Baumbach, D-Newark. “The vast majority of university projects would be unaffected by this bill. It maintains UD’s deserved exemption from local zoning rules for all new projects that have some academic use.

“However, when the university functions as a commercial developer, they should follow the same zoning laws all commercial developers follow. This bill maintains UD’s ability to pursue commercial development of its land; it just ensures that the university follows local zoning laws in those instances. Municipal governments enact local zoning laws to help ensure smart and controlled growth that fits the character of their community. Under this bill, local governments will be able to ensure that their vision for smart growth is incorporated in all commercial development projects.”