January 30, 2001

Claymont activists are trying to make a federal case for sidewalks along Myrtle Avenue. If successful, that could knock away the chocks and start the ball rolling toward the proposed reincarnation of the entire community.

Delaware Department of Transportation has applied for a grant of slightly more than $100,000 under a new federal program to improve pedestrian access from Philadelphia Pike to the commuter train station. The program is part of a U.S. Department of Transportation effort to promote alternatives to highway transportation.

George Lossť, president of the Claymont Coalition, described the relatively small project as a kind of demonstration to show what can happen as the result of a directed effort and, in effect, lend 

credence to an ambitious multi-year plan to totally transform Claymont.

"It is not something that's going to happen overnight. It's going to take five to 10 years and maybe longer. You can't fix everything at once; it's going to have to be done in steps," he told Delaforum.

The movement, dubbed 'Claymont Renaissance', began last summer as a joint proposal by the coalition and the Claymont Business Owners Association to spruce up Philadelphia Pike and make it a 'destination' for 

Prime movers for Claymont Renaissance are (from the left) George Lossť, Dawn Lamb and Martha Sheik.

shoppers. By doing so, the organizations reasoned, they could establish a new 'image' for the area.

While Lossť and Dawn Lamb, president of the business group, say that is still envisioned as the initial thrust, Renaissance has taken on a more encompassing mantle. "We see it touching every part of Claymont, which is really a collection of neighborhoods and little villages," Lamb said.

Recently added as a third prime mover is the Claymont Historical Society, whose president, Martha Sheik, said the historic component provides a unifying theme. "We can draw on our past while being far-sighted enough to improve what we have now for the future," she said.

Claymont is defined as the 19703 postal zip code. The Claymont Post Office serves an area between Perkins Run, north of Holly Oak, to the Pennsylvania state line and between the Delaware River and the C.S.X. Railroad tracks and Interstate 95. Included are a variety of communities ranging from the former industrial 'company towns' of Knollwood and Aniline Village to suburban Ashbourne Hills and Radnor Green.

Lossť credited New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner with imbuing Renaissance with the political savvy needed to secure the governmental backing required as a practical matter to fuel its efforts. "He's brought [the proposal] the enthusiasm and support we need to get it off the ground and sustain it," Lossť said.

For his part, Weiner told Delaforum that he regards Claymont as "the perfect prototype model" for the kind of  urban redevelopment that is beginning to take hold around the nation. From his perspective as land-use chairman for the National Association of Counties, Weiner he said that Renaissance should become a good illustration for "economic reinvestment in existing communities that have underutilized infrastructure." It is comparable, he said, to what has happened to transform Ridge Avenue through the Manayunk section of Philadelphia into a trendy tourist, entertainment and shopping 'destination'.

"I am diligently and passionately committed to see that Claymont succeeds in bringing about a revitalization," Weiner said.

As first reported by Delaforum, New Castle County has provided $25,000, with which the Renaissance group has hired West Chester, Pa.-based Thomas Comitta Associates to produce a long-range community development plan. Coincidentally or otherwise, Comitta was the planner on the Manayunk project. 

His Claymont plan will be based largely on what comes out of  two sets of community meetings in late March and early April, which have been being called as a 'visioning process'.

"We're going to ask 'stakeholders' representing every aspect of the community to come out and tell us what they'd like to see Claymont become. They are going to have a big say in what happens," Lossť said.

It is unlikely that there will be a decision on the bid for the Myrtle Avenue sidewalks grant before the meetings, but Lossť said that is not a critical point. Weiner said that Claymont is, in a sense, in competition with Dover and Odessa, which also have applied for grants under the Transportation and Community and System Preservation Program. It is questionable whether Delaware would receive money for three projects in the same year.

Centreville last year received $100,000 from the program, which is evolving into development of a master plan for that community. Like Centreville, Claymont is unincorporated. Both are considered primary areas for inclusion in a new 'home town' land-use arrangement being drafted for New Castle County.

© 2001. All rights reserved.

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