February 8, 2002

Concord Pike Library could be replaced by a fast-food restaurant or other commercial establishment unless the community dissuades the Wilmington Institute Free Library from selling to property for such use, according to County Councilman Robert Weiner. An official of the library said nothing in that regard is imminent.

Weiner told the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred that he has learned that the institute "has broken off negotiations" with the neighboring First Unitarian Church, which has been interested in acquiring the property for expansion. "They are now interested in selling for the 'highest and best use', which is as a commercial site," he said.

"That is not exactly the situation," David Burdash, director of the Wilmington Institute library, who was not at the meeting, later told Delaforum

In other matters at its meeting on Feb. 7, the civic council was told that efforts are underway to shift the burden of responding to home and commercial electronic alarms to the security companies which sell the systems and that County Council will be asked by Councilman Richard Abbott to have Wilmington's city government pay rent for space it is using in the downtown Louis L. Redding Building.

"We don't need another commercial site on Concord Pike," Weiner said as he sought to rally support for countering such use for the Talleyville site after the library moves out. The regional library now under construction in Talley-Day Park along Foulk Road is scheduled to replace the Concord Pike Library.

He was not specific about a likely purchaser, but said "there is a tremendous amount of interest in the restaurant community for that site." He added that a chain establishment would be the most likely purchaser.

Burdash said that, under terms of a lease by which it uses part of the library property for a playground the church has first right to buy the entire property at an amount proposed by the institute. If it does not agree to do so within seven days of being offered the property, "we would go to market" and the church would be able to submit a bid "just like any other [would-be purchaser]," he said.

However, he added that the institute "would prefer to sell to some organization that would be compatible with the community" and that it intends "to meet with community leaders to discuss the options."

Burdash said there is no timetable for proceeding because there is not yet a firm date for the library to vacate the property. He estimated that about six months before the move would be a likely time to start the process.

Apart from the fact that a publicly-supported public service organization now owns the property, there is an unusual element in the situation in that it came into its present use apparently as a result of a long-ago community-benefit transaction. Woodlawn Trustees sold the site to Wilmington Institute in 1956. Weiner described that as "virtually a gift fort the benefit of the public."

Woodlawn Trustees lawyer John Bloxom told the civic council's meeting that there had been an exchange of letters at the time stipulating that use of the property be restrictedto public benefit. But, he added, there apparently was never any followup to incorporate that proviso into a deed restriction or other legally binding contract.

The property is zoned for commercial use, Weiner said, but county government has some leverage in that it finances most of the Wilmington Institute's operating budget.

New Castle County police chief John Cunningham told the meeting that legislation will soon be introduced into the General Assembly by state Representative Robert Gilligan that would require alarm companies to verify that a situation requiring police assistance exists before police are dispatched in response  to a home or commercial alarm.

There is such a requirement in Salt Lake City, Utah, and other jurisdictions and it is effective in reducing the number of false alarms, he said. He added that establishment of such an arrangement here is his top legislative priority.

As Delaforum previously reported, false alarms are a major problem for county and other police forces in Delaware. Cunningham said it requires the equivalent of 27 officers working full time to respond to alarms. Of more than 30,000 alarm responses in the past two years, only 10 involved actual crimes, he said.

Joe Gallagher, who represented the Delaware Alarm Association at the meeting, disputed that figure and said that companies do use a telephone system to verify alarms before calling police. "We're doing a lot of things industry-wide to reduce false alarms," he said.

Cunningham said that requiring pre-response verification would be more effective than attempting to impose fines for multiple instances of false alarms. A two-year education effort, he said, has been only minimally effective. "Over the last two years, we've reduced the number of false alarms by 800. At that rate, in 40 years, if no more alarms [systems] are installed, we'll probably eradicate the problem," he said.

Gallagher said, however, that a different kind of problem will emerge "if burglars find out police are not going to respond."

Abbott told the meeting that he will introduce a resolution in County Council calling on County Executive Tom Gordon to negotiate a lease requiring "payment of market rent" and for utilities and maintenance covering space in the Redding building formerly occupied by county departments and now occupied by city departments. Although Wilmington is officially the 'county seat' of New Castle County, most county operations are now based in suburban Corporate Commons off Basin Road at the airport.

The downtown building was constructed and was to be occupied as a 55%-45% city-county joint venture. Since the county offices moved out in 1997, the city departments -- which he called "squatters" --  have occupied about 17,500 square feet of space still maintained at county expense, Abbott said.

2002. All rights reserved.