May 13, 2003

Owners of the property off Silverside Road near Marsh Road where the historic one-room Forwood School building is located have revived a long-dormant intention to develop the site.

Bob Forwood said Forwood School Associates, a partnership of himself, his brother Albert, and his sisters, Marty Johnson and Betty Harvey, would prefer having the 11-acre tract rezoned and building a 60,000-square-foot professional office building, a branch bank and two 24-unit age-restricted townhouse-style apartment or condominium buildings there.

Failing that, he said, the family members will exercise their right under present zoning to construct  up to about 50 townhouses.

Either way, he declared adamantly at a meeting of the Graylyn Crest Civic Association on May 12,

"the property is going to be developed."

Several years ago, the Forwoods unsuccessfully sought a rezoning for a combination of commercial and residential uses. That proposal was opposed by residents of Graylyn Crest and other communities in the vicinity.

Bob Forwood explained that his father, also Albert, left the property to his adult children to assure their well-being and security in their advanced years. Because they are growing older, "we have gotten to the point where we have to move forward with some development," he said.

This building off Silverside Road is said to have housed one of the nation's first free public schools.

"We're going to get the full current value" from the property.

He asked the civic association to decide between the options. "It's going to be [the office-apartment plan] or it's going to be developed the way it's now zoned. We can't wait any longer," he said.

A similar proposition was made earlier to the civic association in Glenside Farms. Both communities abut the present Forwood property. They are on land which was part of a farm owned by the present generation's grandfather and was sold sold to developers in the 1950s.

County Councilman Robert Weiner, who would have to sponsor any rezoning, said he will be guided in whether to do so by community wishes. "I am not going to introduce any change in zoning unless the community wants it, he said. But, he noted that the Forwoods have the legal right to proceed under existing zoning as long as they comply with the technical requirements of the Unified Development Code.. "We would all prefer that nothing be done [to the property], but that is not an option," he said.

The school building is believed to be the oldest extant building in the original 13 states that had been used as a school. It was donated in 1799 by the Forwoods' forebears -- who were pioneer settlers in Brandywine Hundred -- for that purpose in what was then an embryonic free public school movement. It served as a proverbial rural one-room school until 1939, when Forwoods purchased it back and converted it to a residence.

The building currently is unoccupied. It had been the object of complaints because of its neglected condition. The exterior and the land around it has been cleared up and cleaned up in recent months. The interior reportedly is in poor condition. The building's  landmark status is unclear, but it falls well within the preservation criteria of New Castle County's historic property law.

Clearly interested in persuading community residents to buy into the office building-apartment plan, Bob Forwood said preservation of the building is part of the proposal. He said its future use has not yet been determined, but that it will not be for commercial purposes.

Another feature of the plan would be the building of a service road through the property that would connect the adjoining Shops of Graylyn shopping center with Silverside Road at an intersection adjacent to the Silverside Dairy property directly across from the entrance to Branmar Plaza, another shopping center. Forwood said Delaware Department of Transportation has informed him that it plans safety improvements for that part of Silverside Road. Among other things, they will eliminate access to the Shops of Graylyn from the westbound lanes of Silverside Road and left turns onto Silverside Road from the shopping center.

The office building would be situated so as to block a view of the unattractive rear of the strip shopping center and both it and the residential buildings would be three stories high, one fewer than permitted the property code.

A street though Glenside Farms which on DelDOT's maps extends through the Forwood property would remain unbuilt and the Graylyn Crest side of the developed tract would be left undeveloped. "They get to keep their [limited use] road and you get the green space," Forwood told some 40 Graylyn Crest residents who came to the meeting.

He did not say what would be done with the school building and designated roads if that plan is rejected and the townhouses built. The Forwoods would have only partial control over their fate.

2003. All rights reserved.

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