positions soften, the Planning Board's public hearing on Sept.3 to consider an application by McDonald's Corp. to replace its
restaurant at Philadelphia Pike and Harvey Road in Claymont will
be an adversarial proceeding with the prospective developer and
at least some community activists clashing.
else is new? We all know that rezonings, variances and
subdivision plans have long been a matter of us versus them and
was supposed to be different.
McDonald's application is only the third under the redevelopment
ordinance enacted early this year to encourage upgrading older
properties by bypassing the cumbersome and often expensive
process of obtaining Board of Adjustment variances from code
requirements. Community opposition often is a significant cause
for the complexity.
strong community opposition in 2000 when McDonald's sought
variances to replace the Claymont outlet. The Board of
Adjustment denied that application.
has learned that both of the first two redevelopment ordinance
proposals -- both of which had community endorsement -- have
received favorable rulings from the county Department of Land
Use and are now in the final stages of plan approval. They are a
medical imaging building in Talleyville and a liquor store in
Southwood Farms. A fourth proposal, involving a property in
Richardson Park, is scheduled to go before the Planning Board in
was before County Council, the redevelopment ordinance was
touted as a proverbial 'best of both worlds' proposition. Property
owners could upgrade older buildings, improving their utility
and economic value, without having to meet the requirements of the Unified Development Code, which are
far more stringent than the standards that were in place when
the property was first developed. Communities would reap the
benefit of having eyesores removed or at least improved and
avoiding having to cope with abandoned or underused properties.
process, as explained then, was that the developer, civic
association and others who had a stake in the outcome would reason
together, establish priorities about desirable improvements and
come up with mutually acceptable redevelopment plan. After
a public airing before the Planning Board, professionals in the
Department of Land Use would examine the agreement to see if it
would likely result in sufficient betterment to justify waiving
full compliance with the code.
tool for determining how much is enough is a formula
incorporated into the ordinance which measures how close the
various improvements -- in regard to such things as setbacks,
buffer zones, parking, landscaping, stormwater management and
the like -- come to meeting current standards. Some of the
calculations are objective -- the number of parking spaces, for
instance. Others are necessarily subjective. Either way, the
percentages are then totaled. The magic number, which
establishes the threshold for approval, is 400 percentage
points. Since no category can total more than 100%, the formula
requires improvements in at least four of them.
Using the ordinance's euphemistic
terminology, developers can claim their plans represent
impressively high degrees of improvement. McDonald's, for
instance, said it is offering at least a 1,500% improvement at
the Claymont site.
No one is disputing the fact that the
plan will produce major improvement there and some area
residents probably would agree that it will be 15 times better.
The rub, however, is that improvement
comes with what some regard as an undesirable element.
McDonald's wants to put up a new restaurant built to look like
the ones with which the company was launched in the 1950s. It
would be complete with 'golden arches' on both sides of
the building. That is intended as a marketing ploy in the highly
competitive fast-food business, project manager Michael Carr
Trouble is, according to some
critics, the arches and the rest of the brilliant red-and-white
decor will clash with the Claymont Renaissance. The Renaissance
movement envisions rejuvenating the unincorporated community by,
among other things, giving it an historic appearance. Fifties
fast food nostalgia is not compatible with the image being
sought, it is argued.
president of the Claymont Community Coalition said flat-out at a
recent meeting, "We don't want that ugly building."
remark has set the pace and become a sort of rallying cry. All
but one of the dozen or so attenders who spoke at the meeting
objected to the plan. Since then, however, there have been
indications in some quarters that the objections may not be as
strongly felt nor as widespread as that would indicate. There
also reputedly is an effort underway to tone them down.
source said that several people active in the community have
indicated they are willing to accept the arches in return for a
major national company's willingness to make a significant and visible
investment in the community. The McDonald's outlet is
company-owned, not a franchise.
reasoning is that the initial Renaissance improvements are
intended for father north on Philadelphia Pike and will take at
least five years to bring about. As the improvements move
southward in later years, McDonald's marketeers' passion for the
arches is likely to have waned and the company would be
receptive to blending in with area improvements.
hand, Joseph Elad, who lives in the historic Laffey House, which
sits behind McDonald's, said that "except for the design of the
building, everything they want to do is an improvement."
ideal world, we (he and his wife, Faith) would like to see them
[tear down] the building and move across the street," he said.
"We know that is not going to happen and [that] they have a
legal right to develop where they are. They could get a lot of
good will [by changing] the specific design of the [new]
building," he said.
that a decision on that would have to come from someone higher
up on the corporate ladder than he. He reportedly has advised
Claymont leaders that the company no longer is interested in
relocating to the former Brosius-Eliason property cattycorner to
the restaurant, on which it previously had a purchase option.
That site has been proposed as the site for a large Wawa
convenience store and gasoline station -- which also has evoked
generally is agreed that esthetics and building design are
outside the scope of land-use regulation. With that in mine,
some see endorsement of the overall plan as a bargaining chip to
secure a change in the planned design.
that, County Councilman Robert Weiner, who represents the
Claymont area and was one of the sponsors of the redevelopment
ordinance, said that reasonable compromise is in order. The law
seeks to balance the interests of communities and developers. In
the McDonald's case, it "encouraged the applicant to initiate
positive changes," he said. "Redevelopment is better than the
alternative of allowing the [property] to continue to
the situation aside, there have been questions raised about
whether the McDonald's approach squares with the process
envisioned when the ordinance was enacted. Carr told the
coalition meeting that the company elected to re-apply under the
new law after that was suggested during preliminary
conversations with the land use department.
coalition meeting, which was held after the application was on the
Planning Board's hearing agenda, was the first presentation of
the plan to the community. Carr presented it as a completed
proposal in the form in which it would go before the board, not
as the basis for negotiation with community leaders or others.
He did, however, agree to report what was said at the meeting to
his corporate superiors.
Lavelle, zoning chairman for the Council of Civic Organizations
of Brandywine Hundred, said that does not jibe with his
understanding of how the law is supposed to work. "There's a
difference between working out [a plan] that both sides can
agree on and being asked to agree to something [presented] to
you," he said.
Talleyville case, he said, the applicant consulted with
community organizations and nearby property owners, while
developing its plan.
redevelopment ordinance, he said, gives considerable descretion
to the land use department and is vague on how its
mutual-benefits objective can be met in actual practice. "It
sound good, but we can't be sure how it's really supposed to
umbrella civic council's executive committee has adopted an
as-yet-unpublicized resolution to support the Claymont Coalition
in the McDonald's case.
Delaforum for his opinion of whether the redevelopment ordinance
is working as intended, Victor Singer, chairman of the Planning
Board, would only say, "Wait and see."