News

April 26, 2002

Civic associations commonly seek to improve the image of their communities and increase property values. One in the Claymont area, however, has taken that a giant step further.

Work is underway to completely renovate one house and by summer the New Knollwood Civic Association expects to begin work on three more.

"We own seven right now and eventually we plan to do about 30," said George Lossť, a member of the association's board of directors.

The proposed time frame is about five or six years, but that is not firm. To a degree, the success of the project could

affect its extent. Overall effect of improving and selling a significant number of houses is expected to be general improvement in property values and encourage improve-to-sell ventures by individual owners.

The association's goal is to increase home ownership by providing attractive opportunities for families that otherwise would rent to purchase a property. The rehabilitated houses will be priced in the range of $40,000 to $50,000. To take advantage of a subsidized mortgage, the purchaser will have to agree to live there for at least 10 years. At present, about 40% of the 150 houses in Knollwood are rented.

Rehabilitation is being financed by $625,000 from New Castle County, which Lossť explained is structured as a revolving fund to be replenished as the structures are finished and sold. The association believes it has identified a qualified buyer of the first property.

The New Knollwood Civic Association is rehabilitating this house on Colby Drive -- the first of about 30 in the community that  it intends to fix up and sell.

He said that the plan is to acquire properties "as they become available" either on the open market, through sheriff sales or otherwise.

It is a generally accepted principle that owner-occupied housing tends to attract people who take a greater interest in their property and to be better maintained, said Norma Zumsteg, a vice president and community consultant for P.N.C. Bank Delaware. The bank 'adopted' Knollwood in 1996 and has since been involved in a variety of community programs and ventures.

The 'partnership' was formed, she said, "because we recognized the potential here and saw the commitment to transform itself." That effort has borne fruit in a variety of ways over the past few years, she said.

Knollwood is unusual among suburban developments in that it much older and largely self-contained. It dates back to the early 20th Century when it was constructed as company housing for what then was Worth Steel Co. The original name was Worthland.

After mergers and acquisitions, Worth Steel is now Citi Steel but, except for having its office building at the entrance to the community, the company has no ownership connection with the community. In fact, according to Shirley Alloway, vice president of the civic association, only about two or three Knollwood residents work in the adjacent steel mill. There are also some retired steelworkers who have been long-time residents.

"We're a very diverse community, but a tight-knit one," she said. "If something happens, neighbors look out for each other and are willing to lend a helping hand." The association claims about 25% of residents as active members, with community events attracting about 60% of the some 500 to 600 residents.

Knollwood also is isolated in the sense that it is separated from the rest of Claymont by Interstate 495.

Although the houses are old -- built between 1910 and 1917 -- they are good candidates for rehabilitation because they were so well built, Zumsteg noted. The work involves essentially gutting them and reconstructing the interior within the existing shell.

The one being rehabilitated is a semi-detached three-story tile and stucco structure on Colby Drive. The three slated to be next are part of a row of brick buildings on Denham Drive, two of which have extensive fire damage. The other three that the association owns also are on Denham.

Lossť noted that, although they all were obviously built to last, the size, appearance and apparent quality of the houses varies from street to street. That reflects the fact that company housing was apportioned to workers to a large extent on the basis of their jobs. "As you moved up in the company, you moved around in where you lived too," he explained. The largest houses in the community, where supervisors once lived, were torn down to make way for I-495.

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