News

August 17, 2001

Declared just a few weeks ago to be one of the three roots of the community's worst problems, Brookview Apartments has emerged as possible centerpiece of the Claymont Renaissance. Redesigned, it would anchor a 'main street' retail and restaurant complex at the heart of the extensive renovation's initial focus area, according to the latest plans.

"The greatest opportunity [for improvement] exists at the front end of Brookview," consultant and town planner Tom Comitta told a Renaissance meeting on Aug. 16.

He and his firm have proposed developing the stretch of Philadelphia Pike between Seminole and Manor Avenues into a trendy area with shops, restaurants and other amenities. It take seven and a half minutes to walk at a normal pace and a round trip compares nicely with the 15 to 20 minute average stop at a shopping center, he said.

Comitta said Brookview's owners, Jack and Donna Clark and Jack Clark Jr., were so receptive to the concept of upgrading their facility and participating in the renovation program that his firm has extended its notion of what could happen at the property to include a larger area.

A sketch presented at the meeting showed a redesigned McComb Boulevard, flanked by shops, leading to an 'entertainment center' where Brookview's swimming pool used to be. Father north, opposite the entrance to the Norbertine priory at Archmere Academy, would be a similar pathway leading to an amphitheater. McComb Boulevard is the access road from Philadelphia Pike into the apartments. The 'entertainment center', Comitta said, could be a bowling alley, skating rink or similar amenity.

All those things together, he said, would make Claymont "a destination and a nice place to hang out."

Behind the new front, Brookview would be rebuilt -- much the same way as Paladin Club and Village at Fox Point, the former Clifton Park and Kynlyn Apartments, respectively, have been -- with the idea of providing age-restricted senior housing and residences for young professionals. "Astra Zeneca is looking for places where [some of] those people they are bringing here are going to live," said County Councilman Robert Weiner.

In addition to the Clarks, Weiner said, owners of the three other properties that make up the existing commercial zone -- an automotive muffler shop, a 'dollar store' and a strip of small shops -- have expressed interest in and support for the Renaissance. One of them, Tom Smith, whose family owns the strip that extends from Smith Pharmacy, declared so at the meeting. The Clarks have specifically declined to appear at any of the public meetings.

Also included in Comitta's presentation was a suggestion that through traffic be diverted from Philadelphia Pike by construction of an additional or a replacement Interstate-495 interchange at the Stockdale curve on Governor Printz Boulevard or between there and Grubbs Landing Road.

Weiner said he is proceeding with legal research leading up to his introducing a measure in County Council to rename Philadelphia Pike. As previously reported by Delaforum, he proposes restoring its Colonial-era name, The Kings Highway. Doing so, he said, is a multi-step process which will require extensive public involvement. One possible objection was raised at the meeting by Martha Sheik, of the Claymont Historical Society, who reminded the group that "we fought a revolution to get rid of the king." Weiner's motivation is that the present name "advertises someplace else [and] tells you that's where you want to go."

None of the references to the highway or traffic drew a specific response from a large group of Delaware Department of Transportation officials present at the meeting. They came after the department yielded to a Weiner-led barrage of objections to its attempt to form an advisory committee in conjunction with a proposed 'safety improvements' plan for Philadelphia Pike.

The councilman was careful in his references to DelDOT at the meeting to portray the agency as a willing partner in the Renaissance venture. "They have always had a presence in the Renaissance; now they have a bigger presence. Their safety elements will fit in with our 'streetscaping' planning," he said.

"To us this is a partnership. We have been 100% supportive of this (the Renaissance) all along," declared DelDOT planning official Ralph Reeb. "Safety is an issue. For all of us, it is an important issue but it can't be the only issue."

The Renaissance steering committee objected to the safety program on the grounds that its understanding is that safety improvements mean widening and otherwise upgrading the road to permit vehicles to travel faster. The Renaissance wants Philadelphia Pike, by whatever name it is eventually known, to be 'pedestrian-friendly'. Comitta's plan envisions lining it with 212 trees between Perkins Run and Naamans Road.

Comitta noted that the combination of the pike, Governor Printz and Interstate-95 and -495 make Claymont unusual in having four major highways in a relatively small geographic area. Even considering through traffic, "that's a lot more than we need," he said.

David Ames, a history professor at the University of Delaware, said the initial Renaissance area would be a good spot for a state visitor center. Having one there would be far more productive than the existing one on the Delaware Turnpike, he said.

Weiner had a mixture of good news and bad for the group. He said a proposal for a $100,000 federal transportation grant was contained in a measure passed by the U.S. Senate but is not in the House of Representatives bill. With efforts by Congressman Michael Castle to insert it having apparently failed, the matter will end up in a conference committee charged with reconciling the two versions of the legislation and U.S. Senator Joseph Biden has begun an effort to see that it is retained in the final version of the law.

Obtaining that money, he said, will give the Renaissance a quarter million dollars to work with -- "something we never thought possible when we began a year ago."

Weiner said he will discuss, in his role as County Council's land use chairman, possible design concepts to mitigate the probable placement of a Wawa Dairies 'superstore' at the site of the former Brosius & Eliason Co. store at Philadelphia Pike and Harvey Road. The firm has been receptive to designing outlets elsewhere to conform with community amenity standards, he said.

2001. All rights reserved.

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