August 31, 2002

Large-scale -- some might say rampant -- development may be a thing of the past in Brandywine Hundred, but the area's premier zoning watchdog does not see itself at a loss for things to do.

As he prepares to enter the last year of his third two-year term as its president, Daniel Bockover said the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred said he expects the focus of the coming program year to be on 'infill' and redevelopment.

"There's more and more pressure to try to build on every little piece of land," he said. "That's works out all right where there's room but what we have to be careful about are the ones who say, 'Can you change the rules a little bit'."

It has become common, particularly along Shipley and Marsh Roads for owners of larger tracts to see to divide them and erect an additional house or two. Because of the placement of existing structures, shape of the parcel and other factors, the math doesn't always work out. That leads to appeals to the county Board of Adjustment for variances from setback, buffer and other code requirements.

Such permissions usually appear to be minor -- a foot or two here and there -- and no cause for alarm, but cumulatively they can pose problems, Bockover said. "You have to judge each one individually, to see how it relates to what's around it. There can't be a hard-and-fast rule that you apply to all cases. Sometimes it takes the wisdom of Solomon to decide these things."

The basic premise on which Brandywine Council will operate, he said, is "be very careful in making exceptions." It is necessary, however, to be equally wary about opposing legitimate proposals, including some that don't quite measure up to the development code. "When a [parcel] has been open for a long time, neighbors might tend to think it should always remain open and that they have a right to keep it open," he said.

In deciding whether to support or oppose a given proposal, it is necessary to weigh likely effects against the rights of property owners to seek full value, he added. Economic development -- in particular, the Astra Zeneca expansion -- will have a major favorable impact on property values in the near future and lead to calls for Brandywine Council to become involved in making those decisions, he predicted.

He said that it is capable of doing so objectively and that it is willing to hear out all sides before taking a position.

There was no contradiction, he maintained, in the council's separate decisions to support removal of an old farmhouse to make room for development of the Talley family property at Foulk at Shipley Roads and to oppose, to the point of leading an unsuccessful court suit, expansion of a synagogue property opposite Green Acres on Silverside Road. "Sure, everybody would prefer to see open space, and the flower garden they used to have, on that corner, but the house had no particular [historic] value and there was no reason why we should stand in the way [of development of the property]," he said. "The synagogue was a different matter. They don't have room for the parking they need for some of the events they'll have there to avoid [encroaching] on the neighborhood."

Objectivity may be tested soon with expectations the council is about to hear, as early as its Sept. 12 meeting, a proposal for residential development of the section of former Brandywine Raceway property along Naamans Road between Brandywine Town Center and Concord High School.

"We don't have any details yet, except that we know there is [a developer] interested in buying the property and putting houses there," Bockover said. The land is zoned to permit residential development.

Brandywine Council waged a long and hard-fought -- albeit losing -- battle against development of Brandywine Town Center by the corporate interests of the late John Rollins and his widow Michelle. It is still feeling the fallout. In July, the council's long-time treasurer, Joseph Mitchell, resigned in protest of the council's decision to hold a meeting in the county-run community building there. During the academic year, it meets in Brandywine High School.

"Sure, we're sorry to loose Joe. He was our treasurer for 15 years and we certainly would like to have him come back and be active. But that was a small issue," he said.

He said his position is basically that the fight is over and it is time to move on. "The Town Center is there. There's nothing we can do about it now, so we want it to be successful. We don't want to end up with it becoming another [Wilmington] Merchandise Mart."

"There are still some people who won't patronize the stores that are there and who are surprised to find out that I do," he said.

Brandywine Council's decision of what stand to take on the proposed residential development will not be clouded by the past controversy, Bockover promised.

As to redevelopment of older properties, he said the council is generally supportive of the concept but has adopted a 'wait-and-see' attitude toward how the county's new redevelopment ordinance is applied.

Outside of the land-use area, Brandywine Council has several other issues on its plate, Bockover said. "We're not just about zoning; our committees are into a lot of other things."

h Sidewalks -- The goal, he said, is to have them along every connector road in the hundred. "We're not worried about them inside the developments because traffic isn't bad there. But we think you should be able to walk between developments without having to walk out onto the roads," he said.

h The Blue Ball project -- Bockover said he and others still favor constructing a "tight, cloverleaf" interchange to replace the Concord Pike-Foulk Road intersection in lieu of the planed highway complex in the area and substituting an overhead bridge for the tunnel intended to carry the Northern Delaware Greenway under Concord Pike. "Imagine the view walkers would enjoy from up there," he said.

A further consideration in building both the road and the greenway connection is the amount of blasting that will be necessary to clear rocks in the area. "I'm not sure they have fully considered the effects that will have, both on the houses in Alapocas and the [Porter] reservoir," he said.

h Tyler McConnell Bridge -- He said the council opposes further delays and possible rethinking of the plan to erect a new two-lane bridge parallel to the existing one in light of historic and environmental objections. "Except maybe for a few people who don't want anything [built] I don't think there is anybody who doesn't say, 'Get on with it and build it now'," he said.

h Claymont's air pollution problems -- Chemical emissions from the industrial complex along the Delaware River at the Pennsylvania border affect all of Brandywine Hundred, he said. "Claymont is part of Brandywine Hundred and we are fully supportive of addressing those concerns."

h School district swimming pools -- "We want [Brandywine School District] to rewrite its fee structure and change its facilities policy to make those assets available to the public on a reasonable basis," he said.

2002. All rights reserved.

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