February 26, 2001

New Castle County Council will be asked later this year to consider a new form of community organization. If enacted, a proposed 'home town' ordinance would enable places like Claymont and Centreville to restore or maintain their historic character.

Second District Councilman Robert Weiner, who is spearheading the effort to add such a provision to the Unified Development Code, said it is intended to convey some of the powers of a municipality to a community without a necessity for it to incorporate and add a new layer of government.

He called it "a sort of quasi-home rule" -- a middle ground between incorporation and non-incorporated status.

At the same time, the county would have the advantage of informed guidance in dealing with land use and development proposals within 'sensitive' areas, he said. 

The 'home town' ordinance will be a companion piece to the proposed 'unique corridor' ordinance which is expected to be introduced soon into Council, also under Wiener's sponsorship. There is no timetable for introduction of 'home town' and passage of 'unique corridor' would not have to await that, he said. Weiner is chairman of Council's land use committee.

Primary difference between the two measures, he said, is that 'home town' envisions encouraging development while 'unique corridor', as previously reported by Delaforum, is aimed basically at limiting development along stretches of road, like Kennett Pike, which have established characteristics.

Both laws would function in much the same way. A Council member, at the behest of residents, would have to propose either the corridor or the community for designation. A study by the county, which would include public participation and require at least one public hearing, would 

Robert Weiner

determine if the nominee qualified for the respective designation. Council would still have to approve. After that happens, different rules would apply from those pertaining to conventional development.

The main determinant in a designated 'home town' would be the  recommendations of a community architectural review committee, which would consist of residents and business representation and work with one of the county's professional planners. While County Council would have final say in the matter, the committee would exert strong influence on the result. As a more practical matter, it would have the ability to work with the prospective developer or property owner to work out the inevitable compromises which go along with such projects.

Weiner said 'home town' would permit such things as more intensive development or so-called adaptive reuse of older properties in return for complying with aesthetic and other guidelines. Side-by-side commercial and residential development in keeping with the traditional character of a community would be permitted. "We're not looking at corner stores on every block or anything like that, but there would be a much more flexibility than is now allowed," he said.

Gone the 'home town' route would eliminate the need to obtain multiple variances for nonconforming buffers, setbacks and the like although basic underlying zoning would prevail. Certain uses which are permitted in existing zoning categories, however, could be eliminated within the bounds of a defined community area.

Weiner said existence of such an ordinance would enable county government to employ its power of eminent domain to further constructive development and redevelopment projects. The law, he said, permits that to extend to acquiring a property through condemnation for such a purpose. "Condemnation cases aren't concerned with the power to do that but with the price that has to be paid for the property," he explained. 

Still in the concept stage, 'home town' is currently being worked on from at both the political and professional levels. It has already emerged as a likely element of a community master plan being crafted for Centreville in conjunction with Wilmington Area Planning Council. The Claymont Renaissance organization is also looking toward its helping with intended rejuvenation along Philadelphia Pike, Commonwealth Avenue and Green Street.

Weiner said he would think that only a few unincorporated but recognized communities would meet 'home town's' yet-to-be-determined criteria. Places like Talleyville and Richardson Park come to mind. On the other hand, he said, incorporated places like Bellefonte and Elsmere might choose to give up municipal status to take advantage of a new arrangement.

"Each 'home town' will be different with their specific [concept] of what they should look like," the councilman said. While it would be impossible to draft a zoning category to accommodate those differences, the 'home town' idea would allow them to be applied on a case-by-case basis, he explained. 

© 2001. All rights reserved.

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