December 7, 2001

Civic activists and the Wilmington Area Planning Council have started down the path to have the axis roads through 'Chateau Country' officially designated to be what generations of area residents have long regarded them -- historic and scenic highways.

Kennett Pike and Montchanin Road have intrinsic qualities, consultant Jim Klein told the first public meeting on the project. "They don't have to be the best in the world, just the best in the region" to qualify for the designation.

As a general ambition, the effort to preserve and protect the roads in pretty much their present condition began long before Delaware signed up to participate in the federal program and, in fact, was cited as the impetus for that by a representative of U.S. Senator Joseph Biden at a media event in November announcing participation. A month before that event, the planning council quietly formed an advisory committee to produce the 'corridor plan' that is required to put the selected roads first in line to achieve that status.

Unveiled at the meeting on Dec. 6 was a draft of a 'vision, goals and objectives' statement for the proposed plan which singled out  several issues to be addressed. They range from long sought 'traffic calming', through controlling development to managing "appropriately scaled" tourism.

The corridor was defined as State Routes 52 and 100 from Rodney Square in downtown Wilmington to the state line. That would link with the adjoining routes in Pennsylvania to form a loop anchored in the north along U.S. Route 1 by Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine River Museum and Brandywine Battlefield in Chadds Ford. Route 52 north of Wilmington consists entirely of Kennett Pike. Route 100 follows Montchanin Road from Greenville to the state line and Chadds Ford Road north of there.

Pennsylvania is not yet a participant in the federal program, but  consultant Peter Benton said that the commonwealth is involved in other scene byways projects by legislative direction.

In Delaware, the roads have been divided into 15 segments which Klein said have different attributes and will be treated differently in the plan. Pennsylvania Avenue in the city, for instance, is lined with the campuses of two private schools as well as several automobile showrooms. Kennett Pike goes through a commercial area in Greenville. Montchanin Road is a 'country road' for most of its length.

Two possible approaches were suggested. One would define the corridor as the 'viewshed' from the roads. That is jargon for what can be seen from them. The other would be to include the roads themselves as attractions within an area defined by the Brandywine and Red Clay Creek.

Benton cautioned meeting attenders not to regard byways designation as an end in itself. "The plan will not say, 'No more building'. ... Designation does not prevent development. It has no regulatory impact," he said.

If designation is achieved, it will require establishment of a management organization -- most likely a nonprofit entity encompassing the various interests in the corridor -- to maintain. That organization would be the instrument for obtaining public financing and dealing with government agencies on matters affecting the area, Klein said.

Generally speaking, the most effective approach would be voluntary action. "People don't like to be told what to do," he said. "If you give someone an incentive to do the right thing, it makes it easier for a private owner to comply."

Asked to predict what Kennett Pike will look like 10 years from now, Joseph Cantalupo, assistant director of planning for the Delaware Department of Transportation, said he did not see it becoming more than a two-lane road, but did not rule out the likelihood of selective improvements. "We have to keep the road safe. In doing that, we have to find a way to strike a balance with what the community wants," he said.

The draft speaks of differentiating speed limits between the 'countryside' and built-up sections and "develop[ing] strategies to ensure that truck traffic obeys the rules and behaves in a manner that respects the historic nature of adjoining properties along the roadway."

With regard another issue, the draft statements identify the balance as "minimiz[ing] the negative impacts of tourism while maximizing economic benefits." In one context, Klein spoke of a need to tie together the area's visitor attractions "in a thematic way" and in another said that should be done "in a way that doesn't attract a lot of big buses."

A current exercise in balancing evidently is illustrated by the status of the long-range master plan for Centreville and environs. Developed by other consultants in a series of community meetings, the plan is several months beyond its expected publication. It was indicated that the issue essentially is between development and preservation.

"Centreville is where the battle has to be fought and won," Klein said. "Unfortunately, there hasn't been a consensus about the plan. It's a lot harder to keep things the way they are than to simply accept change."

Heather Ehrlich, the planning council's manager for both the Centreville and Kennett Pike projects, told Delaforum that the Centreville plan is being revised by the council, New Castle County and DelDOT. "The initial draft had a number of problems with it which I want to correct before releasing it for public review," she said. That probably will be in January, she added.

New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner said he is drafting legislation to provide some credits against property taxes based on investments in preserving historic properties which would augment state tax credits and be available to property owners on a competitive basis.

The development segment of the draft speaks to extending private open-space preservation and, where that is not an option, encouraging designs that "minimize the amount of change to the existing scenic and historic properties." Clustering new building in a village pattern, rather than spreading it suburban-style over the landscape, was cited as an example of that.

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Go to Wilmington Area Planning Council's Kennett Pike project Web site
Go to Wilmington Area Planning Council's Centreville Village Plan Web site





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