November 11, 2002

County Executive Tom Gordon challenged civic leaders in developed areas to come up with ways to retroactively apply current-day planning techniques to their communities. He said his administration stands ready to provide money or in-kind professional support for such efforts.

"We're really a big city with no real identity," he told representatives of area-wide civic groups at a recent meeting. "We just grew with [suburban] development, but all they did was build the houses without the villages we were promised."

County government is now crafting a new grants program under which recognized 'umbrella' organizations -- which represent several civic associations in various unincorporated areas -- will be able to apply for money to finance specific projects.

Gordon said it intended that the program be used to induce the organizations to "do some creative planning"  in conjunction with county government to produce "more liveable communities." As presented at the session on Nov. 7, that will emerge as pretty much a broadly designed open-ended invitation.

He cited the Claymont Renaissance, a movement which is employing a combination of grass-roots enthusiasm with professional planning to transform a long-established but until recently a neglected area, as an example of what he has in mind. "We supported them from the start and it's beginning to show results. ... There are a lot of other places that need a renaissance," he said.

A case in point, he added, is the Pike Creek area, whose development initially was proposed as a set of village-like communities that would be a scaled-down version of integrated planned developments like Reston, Va., and Columbia, Md. "I wish we could go back to 1965 and get what they said we were going to get. We can't do that, but you can go back and refit what you did get," he said.

The civic leaders were cautioned against attempting to achieve too much too quickly or, on the other hand, waiting until reaching a consensus before acting. "If you begin to show results, you will get the community together. Trying to get people to believe it will happen is your biggest challenge," said Charles Baker, general manager of the Department of Land Use. "Or you could spend $200,000 to talk about it and end up with not a single [thing] built.

Gordon said producing long-range community plans is one of the objectives of the grants program, but it can be used to help achieve more limited goals. It would not be appropriate for park development, which he described as properly a government function, but could provide 'seed money' support for such things as the Council of Civic Organization of Brandywine Hundred's effort to connect subdivisions with sidewalks along state roads.

The executive picked up on a term 'fitted', which Daniel Bockover, president of the Brandywine Council, said is transportation jargon for "putting it in where it wasn't [originally] planned."

"Bring me a 'fitted' planner. That's what we need -- someone who can fit it in where it was overlooked in the first place," Gordon said. He went on to explain that was not intended as a facetious remark and that assigning a full-time planner on the Land Use staff to work with community organizations to further grant-financed projects would be a logical step.

No timetable for was presented for completing guidelines for the grants program or putting it into operation. But Gordon said the county presently has money to support it and indicated it will be part of the budget he will submit for the coming fiscal year.

"The county is never going to be in a better position than it is right now," he said.

© 2002. All rights reserved.

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