February 21, 2003

The Claymont Renaissance steering committee got its first look at the third version of a plan to rejuvenate a segment of Philadelphia Pike and was told that the Claymont Community Coalition has applied for a county community development grant to keep the Renaissance effort moving.

Town planning consultant Thomas Comitta cautioned that the latest proposal -- a modification of previous versions intended to make the project commercially marketable -- is in "a very preliminary form." However, he put forth an ambitious timetable calling for it to be "refined" following a public 'workshop' on Mar. 8 and presented in final consensus form at the May 15 meeting of the steering

committee. The 'workshop' will run for 9 a.m. until noon in the Brandywine Senior Center.

The steering committee expects soon to hire David Wilk, of Greystone Realty Advisors, to interest one or more developers to take on the project. That would indicate the initial phase of the Renaissance could begin moving from the purely conceptual stage toward become reality as early as summer.

"Some say this is pie-in-the-sky -- it will never happen in Claymont. But look what happened in Manayunk," County Councilman Robert Weiner said at a well-attended

Thomas Comitta (right) and Stephanie D'Alleva, a member of his staff, explain the latest proposal for building an 'urban village' in Claymont.

steering committee meeting on Feb. 20. Manayunk, formerly an industrial section of Philadelphia, has been transformed into a trendy 'destination'. Comitta was the professional planner involved in that project.

"We have all the elements that will make this work," Weiner said, but cautioned that it "needs broad-based community support" for that to happen.

George  Lossé, president of the coalition, one of the sponsors of the Renaissance, announced that that organization was the first to apply for a portion of the $250,000 which county government is making available to umbrella civic organizations, such as the coalition, to finance professional planning and related activities.

Lossé later told Delaforum that the application did not specify an amount being sought. James Smith, of the county Department of Land Use, which is administering the grants program, said that amounts will be determined based on priorities to be established, probably in April, at a meeting of County Executive Tom Gordon with representatives of the umbrella groups. Apr. 1 is the deadline for applying for the grants.

 Lossé noted that it was county 'seed money' provided by Gordon at the behest of Weiner "which got us started." It was used in 2000 to hire Comitta.

Comitta and members of his West Chester, Pa.-based planning form, outlined a proposal to rebuild the stretch along Philadelphia Pike between Seminole Avenue and Darley Road as "an urban village." Mostly it would involve replacing the Brookview apartment and townhouse development with mostly upscale housing.

Manor Avenue would be extended westward across Philadelphia Pike.The most recent earlier plan called for using McComb Blvd., the entrance into Brookview as the axis for commercial and civic activities complex, including an amphitheater.

That plan would replace only the front part of Brookview. The new plan calls for a combination of commercial and residential uses fronting on the Pike with the rest of Brookview becoming the location for three- and four-story apartment buildings.

The amphitheater does not appear in the plan, but it does show a group of buildings with undefined uses opposite the entrance to Archmere Academy.

Comitta explained that the design was influenced by an effort to balance commercial use with residential units in a ratio which enables the latter to justify and support the former. Approximately 50,000 square feet of commercial space in the new plan, down from 65,000 square feet in the earlier version, requires 1,250 residential units, he said.

Multi-family residential buildings are the only way to fit that number of units into the area now occupied by Brookview, which has 630 units, he said. When  Lossé questioned the wisdom of  introducing more than 600 new rental units into Claymont, Comitta said they could be occupant-owned condominiums instead of apartments.

Weiner suggested that providing units restricted to occupants over age 55 as well as some that would be attractive to people being transferred into Brandywine Hundred by Astra Zeneca would meet two current area needs.

Timothy Cassidy, a member of Comitta's staff, said an obvious problem involved with fitting sufficient residences into relatively limited space  is the requirement to provide for parking. When combined with the need to accommodate the proposed commercial area as well as two cars for each residential unit, it adds up to 3,140 parking spaces on  roughly 22˝ acres, he said. Although expensive, parking garages and underground parking are possibilities, he added.

The new plan also calls for modifying Delaware Department of Transportation's proposal for rebuilding Philadelphia Pike. Specifically it asks for the segment between the intersection with Governor Printz Boulevard and the interchange with Interstate 495 not include a landscaped median and additional left-turn lanes.

"You're not going to get a town center if you offer it an industrial-strength highway," Comitta said. He explained that could be resolved, at least in part, by eliminating the need for left turns to access the commercial establishments. They would be served, instead, by an alley  at the rear of properties fronting on the Pike.

Bruce Allen, the DelDOT official directing the planning for the Philadelphia Pike project, indicated that the plan could be acceptable as long as it continued to provide for four vehicle travel lanes. Throughout the parallel planning efforts there has been a divergence of interests between creating a 'pedestrian-friendly' environment and providing for motor vehicle travel through the area.

"All of the good plans we have worked on  have involved compromise," Comitta said.

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