The Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred heard and talked about a variety of community issues at its meeting on May 8. Here are capsule reports on the principal proceedings:

Latest Tyler McConnell Bridge plan --- Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward has decided that Delaware will pay the full cost of replacing the Tyler McConnell Bridge over the Brandywine, according to state Senator Charles Copeland. That cost will be somewhere in the range of $60 million to $80 million, the legislator said.

The decision reportedly came after the Federal Highway Administration refused partial financing because the present two-lane span is considered to be an historic structure and is located in an area designated as historic. Copeland said he is not certain if federal money would be available if Delaware Department of Transportation went ahead with the plan to expand the crossing to four lanes by building  a parallel structure adjacent to the present one.

Another bridge was recommended after more than a year of discussion and debate by an advisory panel of area residents, civic and business interests, and public official. Hayward and Governor Ruth Ann Minner originally accepted that idea. Following further discussions by a more select group empanelled to deal with federal requirements involving environmental, cultural and historic considerations, Hayward announced a change of mind, saying that the present bridge should be torn down and a new four-lane bridge built.

Known as a '106 committee' -- after the section of federal law dealing with those matters -- the group before which Hayward spoke on May 2 has led something of a shadowy existence. DelDOT has not responded to several requests by Delaofrum to be notified of its meetings, which presumably are open to the public under the provisions of state and federal 'freedom of information' laws. No other news media has reported on its proceedings since DelDOT held a press briefing in early January. (CLICK HERE to access the Delaforum article about that event.)

DelDOT's Tyler McConnell project Web site has not been updated since a few days after that session and a subsequent 'public workshop' meeting. (CLICK HERE to access it.)

Copeland told Brandywine Council that he learned only indirectly and at the last minute about the recebnt  meeting, held in the Soda House on the grounds of the private Eleuthere Library in Christiana Hundred, at which Hayward disclosed his latest decision, and was able to attend only part of it because of a schedule conflict.

Delaforum was unable to reach Hayward or other ranking DelDOT official for comment or elaboration of Copeland's report. A DelDOT public relations spokeswoman said she was not aware of what happened at the meeting, but added that it is "not unusual" for the department to mix and match a variety of financing sources to pay for a major project.

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Mousely Farm development --- Setting Properties will probably propose building a 'gated community' of 186 age-restricted houses on the 42 acres along Concord Pike between Brandywine Town Center and the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line. Lawyer William Rhodunda said design of the intended upscale community is in a preliminary stage and that details, including the specific kind of houses timing, have yet to be worked out.

"We're not coming close to what the Unified Development Code would allow," he said, adding that it is Joseph Setting's intent to preserve as much of the tract's natural features as possible. Also to be saved, if possible, his an abandoned house believed to date to the mid-1700s. "It's in deplorable conduction but, instead of going for a demolition permit, we want to preserve [it] and use it for a community center," he said.

The new community, which does not yet have a name, will be compatible with the community of single-family houses proposed for the Naamans Road side of the Town Center. Developer there is 202 Group, which Rhodunda also represents.

An age-restricted community is one in which at least 80% of the properties are sold to persons age 55 and older. Rhodunda said the fencing it and controlling access through gates was a desirable feature among persons in that age market. He said that it is hoped that an arrangement can be worked out so that there can be access from the Town Center as well as Concord Pike.

The proposal did not generate any unfavorable response at the meeting. County Councilman Robert Weiner said that, while the community would prefer no development on the site, the plan is preferable to commercial development talked about when the property was owned by a corporation controlled by the late John Rollins. Rollins interests have more recently sold the Town Center and the adjacent tracts.

Brandywine Council's zoning chairman, Philip Lavelle, said the organization will keep in touch with the proposal as it is developed and decide whether or not  to take a stand, either approving of or opposing it "when more detailed information is available.

In another land-use matter, Lavelle told the council meeting that there is no validity to rumors that the county seeks to develop the Jester farm property off Grubb Road as an active-recreation park. A petition has circulated in the area opposing what is said to be an effort by a soccer organization to have playing fields there.

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Sanitary sewer rehabilitation program --- The investigatory phase of the county program to repair and expand capacity of sanitary sewers in northern Brandywine Hundred has been completed and 75 separate projects have been identified and assigned priorities, according to Michael Harmer, the county engineer leading the program.

Heading the list are reopening of the interceptor sewer that runs through the Citi Steel plant in Claymont, repairing collapsed pipe in Knollwood, repairing pipes along North Stonecrop Road and plugging openings in old-style manhole covers to prevent rainwater from flowing into the sanitary system.

Cost of doing all the projects, he said, would be about $25 million. It has not yet been determined over how ling a period the work will be spread, but Hartner said the top-rated projects will get immediate attention.

As expected, a major problem discovered during more than a year of inspecting sewers was a large number of storm drains and household sump pumps connected to the sanitary system. Although a violation of the county building code, making those connections have been a popular expedient employed by both homeowners and builders for many years. Jon Husbands, a manager involved in the project, said the county is now in the process of developing a policy for getting them disconnected. He said there is no intention to penalize property owners who have such connections and as yet undecided whether they will be required to bear the cost of unhooking them, estimated to run between $200 and $500 if professional tradesmen are engaged to do the work.

James Shelton, a consulting engineer, said property owners have been overwhelmingly cooperative with county crews involved in looking for problems in the sewer system. "We went to about 2,000 homes and very few [residents] said not to come in," he said.

The investigatory phase of the program in the southern half of the hundred will begin this summer, Harmer said.

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County Council expansion --- State senator Karen Peterson told the council meeting that her fellow legislators "are tired of dealing with the issue" of expanding New Castle County Council from seven to 13 members. Sponsor of a bill that would repeal the law requiring that the existing six districts be doubled in time for the 2004 election, Peterson said she cannot predict what, if anything, the General Assembly will do before it adjourns at the end of June. State representative Robert Valihura said "there is no support" for repeal. Unless the Assembly takes action to change things, the redistricting process is scheduled to begin in July or August.

Peterson has sided with Brandywine Council in advocating repeal on the grounds that an enlarged County Council is not needed and would impose a significant unnecessary expense on county taxpayers. In a proverbial 'preaching to the choir' talk, Peterson questioned whether the present workload measures up to what could be expected from part-time legislators.

"I have never seen anybody on Council drop over from exhaustion," she quipped.

Peterson was president of County Council in the 1980s. That is the only Council seat filled at-large over the entire county and would remain such under the new arrangement..

When she was in office, four or five zoning requests on its biweekly agenda was the norm; today the Unified Development Code limits consideration of all cases to batches presented just three times a year, she said.. In 1989, there were 720 resolutions and ordinances acted upon; last year there were 345. All members now have full-time county-paid aided to handle constituent relations and other day-to-day chores; "in my day I had to do my own typing," she said.

Brandywine Council president Daniel Bockover acknowledged that the organization is fighting an uphill battle seeing repeal, but urged civic association delegates to try to whip up a last-minute effort to sway state legislators' opinions. "If more people knew what the fact were, I think we'd have a whole different result from what it seems now," he said.

Posted on May 11, 2003

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