March 22, 2001

Several times during the course of a three-hour 'brainstorming' session, Philadelphia Pike was referred to as Kings Highway. While there is no intent -- at least for now -- to officially revert to its Colonial-era name, the road looms large in Claymont's future.

Several of the approximately 45 residents and businesspeople who turned out on Mar. 21 to participate in the first public airing of views about that futurem in preparation for drafting a master plan, agreed that narrowing it would go a long way toward enhancing its ability to attract people to patronize a proposed revitalized business district.

"We want to get out of our cars in communities like Manayunk and Annapolis," said New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner, who is spearheading the public side of the redevelopment effort 

started last summer under the name Claymont Renaissance. Manayunk is a trendy section of Philadelphia while the Maryland capital has in recent years parlayed the presence of the U.S. Naval Academy and its waterfront into making it a popular tourist destination.

Planning consultant Thomas Comitta told attenders that "no place I've seen in Claymont is anywhere near as bad as Manayunk was when we started." The West Chester, Pa.-based consultant was involved in that project.

He said it, Claymont's efforts and similar movements around the nation are part of a 

Claymonters talk about the future during an intermission at a 'brainstorming' meeting.

growing trend to redevelop older communities "yearning for a sense of place." While a history component is part of it, the main thrust is to recapture past ambiance, he explained.

George Lossé, president of the Claymont Community Coalition expressed the goals in more practical terms. Success in the endeavor, he said, "will increase property values of our homes and [provide] a place to eat and shop so we don't have to go out of the area."

The coalition is sponsoring the renaissance movement in conjunction with the Claymont Business Owners Association and the Claymont Historical Society. The process calls for Comitta, hired with a $25,000 county grant, to conduct two public 'visioning' workshops, each of which will be in two sessions, before producing the draft plan. There will be a repeat of the Mar. 21 session on Mar. 24 and second workshops on Apr. 4 and 7, all in the Claymont Community Center on Green Street.

He spoke of its taking 20 to 40 years to fully implement the eventual plan. But he said relatively small steps could get it underway in a matter of a few weeks. Specifically, he listed as immediate priorities installation of designated crossings to permit pedestrians to more easily get across Philadelphia Pike and providing "more green" in the way of trees and other plantings along its sides.

Attenders added several more items to the list, including a publicity effort to improve the community's 'image', restoration of the Brookview apartments to a mixed-use residential and commercial complex, and opening both vistas and access routes to the Delaware River.

There seemed to be a general consensus that Philadelphia Pike needs to be slimmed in view of the fact that through travelers now have alternative routs in Interstate 95 and 495. Now four travel lane and two parking lanes wide, it could be made do with two travel lanes, it was said. While Delaware Department of Transportation is hardly known for reducing highways, it was pointed out that neighboring Marcus Hook, Pa., is doing exactly lot.

"We don't have the resources to go into every community and make it perfect," said state Senator Dallas Winslow. "We need to focus on [a few] opportunities and make them work. When they're working well, you'll find that the neighborhoods will improve."

Weiner said that the proposed 'home town' ordinance --  which, as Delaforum has reported, is now being prepared for introduction into County Council -- will adapt the county's land-use code to serve the needs of older communities like Claymont that want to restore themselves. Specifically, he said, it will remove much of the administrative tangle through which someone wishing to redevelop an existing area now has to trod.

He added that, although discussions such as the one at the meeting sound idyllic, "all it takes is some vision, a united community and a plan." Redevelopment of the Chrstiana River waterfront in Wilmington provides evidence of what can be accomplished in relatively quick order, he said.

© 2001. All rights reserved.

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