News

July 18, 2003

Claymont residents will have ample opportunity to discuss the matter and decide if they want their community incorporated, state Representative Wayne Smith promised. Nothing will happen, he said, until all sides have weighed in.

Smith has said he plans to introduce legislation into the General Assembly that would give an elected and unpaid five-member board authority to regulate land use, and nothing more, in the town. He has referred to that as "partial incorporation," significantly different from full municipal status afforded the cities of Wilmington and Newark and towns like Elsmere and Newport.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Delaforum was in error when it reported that the legislation had been introduced. As reported in a previous article, Smith agreed not to introduce it before the community had an opportunity to discuss it.

He told a meeting of the Claymont Community Coalition on July 17 that he has no strong personal feelings one way or the other, but drafted the measure at the behest of many constituents who

raised the issue with him. "My interest is [in] trying to do what the people of Claymont want," he said.

Similar legislation which he sponsored three years ago died without being voted up or down. The issue, however, is much older than that. Various speakers at the meeting said it has been cropping up from time to time for as long as 30 years. While he said he has not yet formed an opinion on the issue, coalition president George Lossť said, "It's time to bring [the issue] to a head and see what the people do want."

Smith suggested the way to handle that would be to form a taskforce to hold several public hearings leading up to a what would be, in effect, a binding referendum. He said the urban affairs college at the University of Delaware already has agreed to provide technical support to such a taskforce.

He did not offer a timetable for following that process. The Assembly is in recess until January. Smith indicated that he

State representative Wayne Smith addresses the Claymont Community Coalition.

would not press for a quick vote when and if the measure goes before the legislature.. As leader of the Republican majority in the House, Smith has considerable influence over when proposed legislation comes before the full body.

As happened when the matter came up before the coalition a month earlier, there was no support for the idea voiced at this meeting. The audience of about 50 people asked questions and offered some comments bespeaking opposition. Smith was unable to attend the June meeting because his presence was required in Dover, where the legislature was in the process of wrapping up its session.

Bill Lindewirth, legislative aide to state Senator Harris McDowell, said the idea "has a lot of negatives" and cited Elsmere as "a good example" of what happens when a small town takes on major responsibilities. His reference was to the necessity of evacuating an apartment building there last winter when extensive amounts of dangerous mold were discovered. McDowell, whose district also includes a portion of Claymont, is majority leader in the Senate, where the Democrats have the majority.

More outspoken in opposition to Smith's proposal was County Councilman Robert Weiner who said New Castle County government, under the present Gordon administration, has been responsive to local needs. With specific reference to Claymont, he said that further moves are in preparation to accommodate the "unique village-like qualities" of such unincorporated communities with established identities.

"You don't have to have another layer of government. ... We can do all these things with the {Unified Development] Code without adding another layer of government," he said.

Smith said that decision-making by officials with no particular affinity to the local area often ignores local needs. "It's a large county. ... Incorporation is a way to give you control," he said. He cited the increase in the amount of rental housing in Claymont to more than 50%, compared to around 30% about 20 years ago, as an example of the consequences of lack of control.

Weiner, in his later presentation, said that current county government "has tried to make up for all the mistakes of the past."

Smith's proposed legislation would provide for the county Department of Land Use to back up the Claymont land-use board with technical and professional support. The legislator also said he sees no reason why the community's having a "limited-purpose charter" would cause county government to back off from its support of the Claymont Renaissance movement or other involvement with the community. "There [would be] nothing in there that would endanger what has been done or what will be done," he said.

Smith also said there would be minimal, if any, additional tax-supported expense and that, once established, "there would be no way it (limited local government) could grow by itself."

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