October 9, 2001

Realignment of the road planned to run through the Blue Ball recreation area so that it skirts an historic site has raised concern that the move jeopardizes some of the play facilities. State officials, however, contend -- with some varying degree of certainty -- that the public can and will have both to their full extent.

Delaforum learned of the change in the course of the roadway after some legislators were briefed about it. Delaware Department of Transportation has made no public announcement and there was no hint that it was in the offing in a recently distributed Blue Ball Project newsletter. Nor is it apparent in material posted on the project Web site.

Carolann Wicks, DelDOT's assistant chief engineer and Blue Ball Project director, said that details will be included in updated material made available at a public 'open house' to be held at the end of October. At those sessions, attenders have an opportunity to comment and discuss matters one-on-one with DelDOT representatives, but there is no open forum for the airing of views.

Wicks said DelDOT had no alternative to relocating the roadway because it is to be paid for using federal funds and federal law requires that everything feasible be done to avoid encroaching on historic sites or other cultural resources. "We either have to avoid them or, if that isn't possible, minimize or mitigate the effect on them," she said. In this case, since the area is presently open land, avoidance is required.

The site in question is known as the Weldin Plantation. It consists of some stone ruins identifiable as the outlines of

buildings and a chimney. State historic preservation officer Dan Griffith described it as uniquely illustrative of 18th and 19th Century agriculture in the very limited Piedmont area of Delaware.

"It is a significant archaeological site that is eligible for the Historic Register," he said. Part of the plantation dates to Colonial times and part to just after the Civil War. That will combine with the nearby Blue Ball dairy barn, which is illustrative of 20th Century agriculture, to provide good insight into the area's heritage, he added.

New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner said, however, that he fears that shifting the road restricts the ability to place three playing fields for soccer and similar sports and a dog-walking area in recreational park planned for the portion of the Blue Ball tract lying east of Concord Pike. The amount of active recreation being provided for in that park already has been reduced to the minimum conducive to league play and significant public use, he said.

He said that Blue Ball plans include preservation and

These ruins, in a wooded area just off Weldin Road, near Foulk, are the remains of the Weldin Plantation.

Below is an artist's conception -- published in the Blue Ball master plan
-- showing how they might be preserved as a feature of the park.

restoration of the dairy barn where Concord Pike and Rockland Road intersect as well as some other historic houses. The Weldin property could be 'interpreted' apart from preserving the actual ruins if a choice has to be made between doing that and giving up recreation areas, he said

Mark Chura, the state Division of Parks & Recreation official who chaired the recreation and historic preservation committee of the Blue Ball Taskforce, said that the master plan for the area developed in conjunction with the advisory task force already provides for incorporating some of the ruins in an attractive way into the park landscape.

The difference between that and the road realignment is that the latter would preserve the entire Weldin site while the former would involve only selected portions of it.

"The recreational plan can still work under the new alignment," Chura added. "That is not to say that it cannot be cooperative" with other elements of the overall Blue Ball plan.

State Representative David Ennis said his concern is that the road and the playing fields will take priority over stormwater management facilities to control Matson Run and Shellpot Creek. He noted that plans for the Blue Ball conservation area west of Concord Pike envision significant improvements to Alapocas Creek.

"No one has drowned in Alapocas." he said, referring to the fact that two lives were lost in the Shellpot drainage area as a result of flooding during storms a decade or so ago.

It was the need to control the two east-side waterways, which flow downhill into north Wilmington while Alapocas Creek empties into the Brandywine through Alapocas Woods, that was the original purpose for acquisition of the Blue Ball as open space. The project did not move forward until after top state officials committed to providing land for Astra Zeneca to expand its corporate headquarters.

Ennis said the limitations on space caused by regarding recreation and stormwater management as separate entities do not have to be as restrictive as they are. Elsewhere in the country, the two functions have been effectively combined. Ponds for controlled drainage are routinely constructed so that they are dry except when needed during and immediately after a storm. The legislator said there is no reason why some Blue Ball recreation facilities -- the planned  golf driving range, for instance -- cannot be built in a manner that it is periodically given over to drainage control as nature demands for short periods of time.

Griffith said unequivocally that the road shift that has been agreed upon will have no impact on the amount of space that is available for playing fields and stormwater management.

Wicks said that the decision "to not go through the Weldin Plantation site does not affect the goals of the park" nor violate the provisions of the Blue Ball master plan. The recreation facilities, she added, "can be laid out in such a way that they all fit."

Chura said that deciding on the realignment at this time was necessary so that DelDOT can obtain the necessary permits to move forward with roadbuilding in the Blue Ball area. It plans to start construction of what eventually will be a local-service road on the west side of Concord Pike in January, 2002. Initially that road will serve to carry Concord Pike traffic while a partial interchange is constructed to replace the Foulk Road intersection.

That timing "is critically important" if the road network is to be completed in time to meet the demand created by the Astra Zenca expansion, Chura said.

Meanwhile, he explained, it has not been possible to move forward with the recreational component of the project because the state does not yet own most of the property that will be involved. It has acquired 11 acres while some 74 acres remain tied up in court in a dispute over whether a partnership which held commercial development rights is entitled to compensation. Chura disclosed that the state has condemned the land but said that condemnation is now being appealed.

"Until we (the state) have clear title, we cannot move ahead" with the surveys and engineering work necessary to come up with a final park layout, he said. But, he added, "we are committed to not wanting [the roadbuilding] process to put at risk our ability to implement the master plan."

Griffiths said that efforts to preserve the Weldin Plantation do not indicate an all-inclusive position that historic preservation will control how development of the Blue Ball area proceeds.

Already lost in the process has been a Native American archeological site dating to between 2000 and 500 B.C. which he said "will end up under the spur road" which will connect Powder Mill Road with the Concord Pike-Foulk Road interchange. That road, he said, could not be realigned without "cutting through Astra Zeneca's parking lot and clipping a corner off one of their buildings."

2001. All rights reserved.

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