June 20, 2003

Proposed incorporation of Claymont drew a decidedly cool response from some interested residents at a civic meeting, but they agreed to hold judgment in abeyance until they had an opportunity to hear from the chief proponent of the idea.

State Representative Wayne Smith said he plans to introduce legislation that would establish a five-member board to deal with land-use matters in the community. He referred to that as "limited incorporation" on a model not used by any of the other municipalities in the state.

As first reported by Delaforum, Smith's expressed motivation is to give Claymonters control over zoning, development and redevelopment matters in the area defined by U.S. Postal Service's 19703 zip code.

Smith was scheduled to present his proposal at a meeting of the Claymont Coalition on June 19, but he was tied up in Dover, where the General Assembly was working overtime to wrap up this years session. He is Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives.

He agreed to attend the coalition's July meeting and to hold off introduction of any legislation until afterwards. That means that nothing can happen until at least next January.

County Councilman Robert Weiner, who also represents Claymont, told about 35 attenders at the meeting that both he and County Executive Tom Gordon are against the idea. "We have all that without incorporating," Weiner said, referring to a system of 'design standards' now being developed, which county planners  would apply to projects in specific communities. The standards for Claymont, he said, will be crafted by a process which will involve several public hearings.

He said relying on the expertise of professional planners in the Department of Land Use "is better than a town council of five well-meaning but [inexpert] people who have the say over land-use decisions." Smith previously told Delaforum that his proposal would provide that the Claymont land-use board determine policy while using the county department to deal with application and technical aspects of the applications.

Without specifically addressing that, Weiner said "the county doesn't invest in the [municipalities], it invests in the unincorporated areas."

Weiner said he respects Smith as a lawmaker who listens to and is guided by the wishes of his constituents. "He is differential to the community. I'm sure he thinks he is doing the right thing," Weiner said. On the other hand, he added, "if Wayne Smith wants [legislation] to pass, it will pass."

Attenders mostly asked questions about details of Smith's proposal -- most of which could not be answered in his absence -- but the tone of their remarks indicated they were opposed to any form of incorporation. No one made any remarks which could be connoted as being in support of such a move.

Coalition president George Lossť, said he is inclined not to support incorporation but will withhold judgment on the issued until hearing Smith's presentation.

Weiner said he did not want to engage in a one-sided debate, but he generally derided the concept of small municipalities. "With small-town politics, such as they have in Newport and Elsmere, they are always feuding and fighting," he said. One attender pointed out that an incorporated Claymont would rank, by population, as the state's fourth largest municipality, behind Wilmington, Newark and Dover.

 Citing Dewey Beach in Sussex County, Weiner said residents there were promised small government and no taxes when they agreed to incorporate 10 years ago but "every year [since] both the government and taxes have grown," he said. Bellefonte, he said, is considering disincorporating because it finds itself unable to pay for services such as routine police protection. County police are providing emergency response service.

Courts, he said, have ruled that small jurisdictions with land-use powers must provide a full range of development options. "You'd have to provide for adult entertainment. With the county, we have our adult-entertainment zone on South Market Street, but you'd have to have one here too," he said.

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