May 25, 2004

After a little last-minute tweaking, the Hockessin Village Plan will be ready to go before County Council, which is expected to give it the force of law governing future development and redevelopment in a selected area designated as the core of the community.

"We're essentially there," Jim Smith, assistant general manager of the Department of Land Use, told a meeting of the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association.

Councilman William Tansey intends to introduce the enabling ordinance in the form of a rezoning imposing a 'hometown overlay' at Council's meeting on June 22. That will be followed by a public hearing in early August before the Planning Board and expected enactment by Council when it considers rezonings in October.

Tansey told Delaforum that he does not look for any significant opposition to passage.  "Most of the people in the community are on board," he said. "There are enough of incentives in there for businesses and [other] property owners" to be comfortable with the additional steps that will be required to obtain approval for further developing or redeveloping their properties.

Hockessin expects to be joined in its 'hometown' status by Claymont, which, as Delaforum previously reported, is looking to have a similar plan presented to Council, probably in July.

If everything goes as expected, the two communities will be the first unincorporated areas in New Castle County to be given jurisdiction over placement, appearance and other aspects of new construction. They and several other places have long had recognized identities, but, legally speaking, existed in name only. Council recently enacted landmark legislation to modify that.

The Hockessin area civic association did not take a vote on the proposed plan. It was obvious, however, that attenders at the meeting on May 24 agreed with it. The only comments during a brief discussion period following Smith's presentation had to do with a soon-to-be-started study of White Clay Creek, which is peripheral to but not actually part of the plan.

Smith said a vote was not necessary because "we've been at this for more than two years" and interested residents have been kept involved and informed as the plan come together and was modified. All that remains to be done to come up with the final version is a series of private consultations with property owners and residents directly affected, he said.

The area to be covered by the overlay extends in an irregular pattern along Lancaster Pike and Old Lancaster Pike between Valley Road and Erickson Avenue. Smith described that as embracing commercial activity of a regional nature along the pike; 'lighter' locally-oriented commercial along the older road; and residential uses both above commercial establishments and on the periphery of the area.

He told Delaforum after the meeting that, so far, "we haven't gotten around to" establishing a design review advisory committee to rule on proposed development projects. Candidates for appointment to the five-to-nine-member panel will be sought over the summer, he said. The law calls for them to be appointed by the county executive and confirmed by County Council.

Although there is no question that approval of the Hockessin Village Plan will be significant -- and in a sense, historical -- Smith cautioned attenders at the meeting against expecting any immediate or dramatic results. There is no retroactivity involved and implementation of design standards and the like will be gradual as proposed projects are brought forth, he said.

"We're not looking to take anything away from anybody. ... These are guidelines to be applied going forward," he said. The emphasis will be on promoting voluntary compliance in return for incentives having to do with such things as density, parking requirements, building set-backs and the like.

A chart displayed at the meeting said that buildings should be designed to be "appropriate to [their] place" and "harmonious" with the surrounding community. However, it added, "respect for tradition should not rule out innovation and bold statement."

Smith told the meeting that one long-term objective is "to eradicate ugliness."

The plan has already affected some pending public projects. Delaware Department of Transportation has designed safety improvements to Lancaster Pike and 'traffic enhancements' along Old Lancaster Pike to, in part, comply with the plan. In designing a large expansion of the parking lot at Swift Park, the county Department of Special Services agreed to extend it behind properties along Old Lancaster Pike "to allow people to get out of their cars and walk" to the commercial establishments, Smith said.

2004. All rights reserved.

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Read related article: Claymont expects to join Hockessin in seeking 'hometown' zoning
Read previous Delaforuim article: Hometown zoning approved

Access the Village of Hockessin Draft Plan

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