May 19, 2001

State officials have reached an 'agreement in principle' which will allow Astra Zeneca Plc. to build a childcare facility in the conservation area of the planned Blue Ball park while the state places a large stormwater-management pond at the downhill end of the company's expanded headquarters complex.

Offsetting by a considerable amount the 'loss' of seven acres of Blue Ball open space as a result of the controversial land swap will be purchase by the state of the 68 acre Laird Stabler property on Adams Dam Road opposite the main entrance to Brandywine Creek State Park. The sites are about 3.5 miles apart.

Also, according to Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward and other officials, the state has arranged for easements providing the remaining links to connect the present terminus of the Northern Delaware Greenway in Rockwood Park to the Blue Ball area. That will result in the pedestrian and bicycle path extending from the Delaware River at Fox Point to the Brandywine at Alapocas Woods.

Gail Van Gilder, executive secretary of Delaware Greenways said later: I was disappointed to lose open space at Blue Ball, but given the fact that the state needed to move the stormwater, it is a very acceptable compromise and we are delighted to have the replacement open space.

Less satisfied about Blue Ball Project developments revealed at a set of DelDOT briefings on May 18 in anticipation of a workshop-style public hearing on May 20 -- from 5 until 8 p.m. in the cafeteria of Brandywine High School on Foulk Road   -- was New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner, who objected to removing one multi-purpose playing field from the

park plan in order to preserve the ruins of an historic farmhouse.

Reducing the number of fields to two, he said, would reduce the complex below the minimum of three fields considered necessary to provide for league play. "It's a matter of priorities. We do a lot for historic preservation. We have to ask ourselves if this tradeoff is worth it," he said.

At separate legislative and media briefings it was disclosed that the pricetag for transportation and transportation-related elements of the overall project has risen to more than $127 million. The initial estimate was somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 million. Hayward said money to cover the increased amount is fully committed by the General Assembly and there is "absolutely no uncertainty about the availability of funds."

Nathan Hayward and a chart depicting the Blue Ball Project's master plan.

DelDOT official Joseph Wutka said it has not yet been possible to determine what portion of the estimated cost will be provided by the federal government under the various transportation cost-sharing formulas that will come into play. Ray Chura, of the Division of Parks & Recreation, said the escalation of cost is not out of line. "You have to remember that the [initial] estimate is two years old," he said.

DelDOT project engineer Carolann Wicks said that bids will be taken for the first contract to construct the planned road network through the project area in January, 2002, and that roadbuilding will be completed, as promised, in five years.

She flatly rejected a proposal from the executive committee of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred that the possibility of replacing the key Concord Pike-Foulk Road intersection with a cloverleaf, rather than a partial, interchange be reconsidered. That, the committee maintains, would eliminate the need for a 'local-service' road through the park's recreation and conservation areas.

"It's unfortunate that he (Daniel Bockover, president of the civic council) sees a need to bring that up at this time. We had a thorough [advisory committee] process and the decision that was made was clearly the choice of most of [the participants]," she said. "We are not in a position now to go backwards."

The park roads will be the first built -- to larger proportions than intended as their final design to accommodate detoured traffic while Concord Pike and a spur road linking it to Powder Mill Road are being rebuilt and built, respectively -- but Hayward guaranteed that the contract will require them to be reduced to appropriate size when the need for the detour is over.

He also promised that Powder Mill Road through the Astra Zeneca complex will remain open to the public.

Blue Ball Area Transportation Costs

Eastside park improvements

Water quality and stormwater management
Replacement wetland
Stream restoration

Historic restoration:
Blue Ball Barn complex
Murphy & Bird Husbands Houses

DelTRAC enhancements
Additional transit services
Westside roads
Eastside roads
Utility relocation
U.S. 202/Route 141
Spur road
I-95 ramp widening

$ 1,432,000
$ 1,157,000
$ 3,260,000

$ 5,500,000

$ 4,493,000

$ 500,000

$ 2,400,000
$ 1,000,000
$ 15,148,000
$ 16,578,000
$ 3,960,000
$ 38,517,000
$ 10,582,000
$ 22,000,000
Grand total

$ 5,849,000

$ 6,100,000

$ 4,993,000

$ 110,185,000
$ 127,127,000

As an example of public and private investment working in tandem, he predicted that the Blue Ball project will receive national recognition and acclaim.  "When this is all completed, it is going to be a signature project, not only for the state and region but for the entire country," he predicted. The package, he added, combines in a unique way economic development, transportation improvements accommodating both vehicular and other modes, recreation and open-space and historic preservation.

Purpose of the public hearing, he said, is to keep every one concerned up to date on progress and to "share the good news" that the project is both on budget and moving toward "completion in timely fashion."

Declaring the venture an unqualified success, he chided the news media for virtually  ignoring a major accomplishment. Only Delaforum and Radio Station WDEL attended the media briefing.

The May 20 hearing, he said in a statement issued at the briefing "marks the beginnings of the actual implementation of this important and innovative project."

The statement went on to say: "The uniqueness and exciting aspect of this program is that it involves several major departments within state government and in the private sector working together in a unified project that will be both diverse and far-reaching. Once completed, it will benefit the residents, the environment and the economy of Delaware in many ways."

The childcare issue emerged last December after Delaforum reported that the state was seeking the land swap because it was much cheaper and easier from an engineering standpoint to locate the large pond on the land the state has given Astra Zeneca in the Blue Ball Triangle part of the site than across Rockland Road at a place containing large boulders construction debris. As part of its development incentive package, the state had agreed to provide the land for and to build the stormwater-management ponds required by the development. Normally, the onus for doling that falls upon the developer.

Although it was ruled then that resolution of the issue was a public matter, Wutka acknowledged that the process was taken from public view after an initial contentious open meeting. Van Gilder said, however, that Delaware Greenways was involved in working out the agreement that Hayward announced and has kept other people considered to be most directly affected informed. It could not be determined to what extent state and county legislators were kept in the loop.

In any event, Van Gilder said am alternative proposal to locate the Astra Zeneca facility on what is now private property adjacent to the Wilmington-owned Rock Manor golf course, fell through.

Hayward said that accommodating the needs of parents in the workforce is an important consideration for attracting quality employees and that the state recognized an obligation to help Astra Zeneca provide that amenity for its people. Chura emphasized that it was the state which approached the company to propose the land swap and not vice versa.

The transportation secretary also said that an arrangement is in the process to enable the Ronald McDonald House to expand its facility on Rockland Road. Officials of that organization, which provides housing for families of patients at the Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children, had said that the planned spur road would prevent needed expansion and has asked to be allowed to build at the Astra Zeneca childcare site.

The greenway easements are alongside the DelDOT maintenance yard on Talley Road adjacent to Interstate 95 and farther east on the same road at what long ago was the entrance to the Rockwood property. With regard to the latter, DelDOT intends to resell the property after granting the easement. An easement is the right of passage across otherwise private property.

Van Gilder said the greenway path will be located in a way that will not encroach on residences in the area. She also said that DelDOT is holding the sale in abeyance which Delaware Greenways explores the possibility it can raise the money to buy it and locate its offices there.

Weiner said he objected to relocating the planned park road so it would skirt, rather than go through, a property at the present intersection of Foulk and Weldin Roads known to preservationists as the Weldin Plantation. Located there are the stone ruins of the foundation of a farmhouse, previously hidden from view by a growth of trees and not widely known.

Noting that the number of playing fields in the active-recreation east side of the park had already been cut from seven to three, he said taking yet another away would be a disservice to the public.

Chura said the state has not yet acquired all of the property necessary for construction of the recreation section of the park, owned by Al-Zar Ltd., the real estate arm of the Nemours Foundation. There is litigation underway to determine what effect Al-Zar's having sold development rights there will have on distribution of proceeds from its sale to the state.

Hayward also said, without getting into detail, that arrangements are made for the extending the length of the playing course and adding a practice driving range at the Rock Manor course.

2001. All rights reserved.

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Read previous story: Civic group seeks Blue Ball redesign
Read previous story: Child care unit considered at Blue Ball
Read previous story: 'No room in the Triangle'
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