June 6, 2003

Granting Claymont 'limited incorporation' would give the community control of land use and development, according to state Representative Wayne Smith, who confirmed a report first published by Delaforum that he intends to introduce legislation into the General Assembly to do just that.

"Some folks in Claymont have a concern that land-use decisions are made around them. Some feel that Claymont would benefit if the decisions were made there," Smith told Delaforum.

The status he has in mind would be different from any other governnmental arrangement in the state. "It wouldn't be a full-blown municipality, like Middletown or Newark," which provide a variety of local services, nor neighboring Arden, Ardentown and Ardencroft, which are separately incorporated mainly to preserve a current version of the single-tax philosophy upon which they were founded.

Smith said his proposed legislation would establish a 'Claymont Land Use Board' with five members elected to two-year terms. The board would have jurisdiction to deal at a policy level with zoning and land-use plans. Its decisions would be subject to approval or veto by the county executive. The county Department of Land Use would provide professional planning and technical support.

In general terms, the board's function would be similar to the county Planning Board, except that its findings would not be advisory in nature and County Council would have no role in the decision-making.

"It would be there so Claymonters could make their own decision without depending on a big government which is not always in touch with [situations] in Claymont," Smith said.

In recent times, there have been several land-use controversies in the Claymont area and there is a major effort to effect a 'renaissance' involving renewal and redevelopment along Philadelphia Pike. County government has been involved with and supportive of that effort.

The local board, Smith said, would have no taxing power.

The biggest objection to earlier  proposals to incorporate Claymont, which have risen from time to time,  have largely come down to resistance against another layer of government and additional taxes. 'Limited incorporation' would involve neither, Smith said.

Whether it would qualify property owners in the community for a somewhat lower county real estate tax rate is uncertain. The rate is set for unincorporated areas and scaled down in proportion to services provided by municipal governments in incorporated areas of the county, such as Elsmere, Bellefonte and Newport.

The Claymont charter would apply to the area defined by the U.S. Postal Service's 19703 zip code. That presently is considered by most residents and others to be the 'town'. Bordered by the Delaware River,  Interstate 95 right-of-way, Pennsylvania Border and Perkins Run, it includes both the core area around Philadelphia Pike and newer suburban communities such as Radnor Green and Ashborune Hills.

Although it has never had legal existence, Claymont traces its history back to Colonial times when Swedish settlers pushed north from what is now Wilmington to establish farms and mills overlooking the Delaware. It served for most of the 19th Century as an exurban retreat for Philadelphians. Its most significant growth occurred with the coming of steel, oil and chemical companies around the time of the First World War. The Claymont Historical Society's Web site refers to Claymont as Delaware's "fourth largest town."

Smith told Delaforum that his proposed legislation is about ready for introduction and could possibly be acted upon by the General Assembly before it adjourns at the end of June. He added, however, that he wants to "gauge community sentiment" before any definitive action is taken.

George Lossť, president of the Claymont Community Coalition, told the meeting of officers of umbrella civic organizations, which County Executive Thomas Gordon convenes monthly, about Smith's proposal.

"If it's for the betterment of Claymont, I am not against it; but I don't know how it is going to help us," Lossť said.

Gordon did not comment on Lossť's presentation at the umbrella group meeting on June 5 except to say that the county administration will be represented at any public sessions dealing with Smith's plans. Lossť said Claymont Coalition expects to host the first general public presentation of the matter.

Smith, who is the Republican majority leader in the state House of Representatives does not live the area described as Claymont, but his district includes a large part of it. Following reapportionment for the 2002 election, the area was divided among him and three other representatives, David Ennis, Gregory Lavelle and Robert Valihura, and two senators, Cathy Cloutier and Harris McDowell. All except McDowell are Republicans. McDowell is the Democrat majority leader in the state Senate.

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