July 30, 2004

Claymont can be redeveloped as "a pedestrian-oriented place ... where people can live, work, shop, learn, recreate and worship in a small-town environment" if 396 acres bordering on Philadelphia Pike are granted 'hometown' zoning under a new county law.

An extensive community plan envisions creating, in a compact area between Seminole Avenue and Darley Road, a shopping and eating 'attraction' which previously has been presented as a small-scale version of the trendy Manyunk section of Philadelphia.

The plan and an accompanying Manual of Design Guidelines, which were distributed on July 29 by the county Department of Land Use, posted on the department's Web site and made available in the Claymont branch library, are the culmination of a four-year effort by the Claymont Renaissance, an hoc movement originated by the Claymont Community Coalition, the Claymont Historical Society and the Claymont Business Owners Association.

The plan is largely the work of West Chester, Pa.-based Thomas Comitta Associations, which has

been town planning consultant to the both the Renaissance and the land use department. Thomas Comitta was largely responsible for the Manyunk redevelopment project several years ago.

The documents are an intrinsic part of an ordinance before County Council establishing a 'hometown overlay' which would empower an advisory board of community residents and business persons to judge future development proposals on the basis of how they dovetail with the plan. Existing properties would not come under the board's jurisdiction although the plan envisions owners voluntarily bringing them more or less into line with the standards.

The ordinance will be the subject of a public hearing before the county Planning Board on Aug. 3 beginning at 7 p.m. in the Redding Building in downtown Wilmington.

After receiving recommendations from the Planning Board and land use department, County Council is scheduled to act on the proposed

The area proposed to be included in the Claymont 'hometown' zoning overlay.

Claymont zoning and a similar proposal from Hockessin in October when it next takes up rezoning ordinances.

The Claymont plan divides the proposed overlay zone into three segments. In addition to Claymont Center at the northern end, where "a critical mass of shopping and pedestrian activities" would be located, there would be a Neighborhood Transition Area , where "medium- to high-density development" would be allowed, surrounding it on both sides of the pike and running south to Alden Road; and what is referred to as the Edge, between Alden Road and Perkins Run, where there would be low- to medium-density development.

"The progression from Claymont Center to the Edge is accomplished through the design of the public realm of the street as well as through appropriate massing, scale and architectural design of the buildings," the plan said.

For the first time in the course of public discussion, the plan sets forth a specific date in noting that "by 2013, the Claymont community sees itself as having an attractive and desirable downtown where you can take your family in a traditional neighborhood setting."

Except for its inclusion within the Neighborhood Transition Area, the plan has no explicit reference to the Brookview Apartments complex, which in many meetings of the Renaissance steering committee has been referred to as the keystone in potential redevelopment. The plan does speak to "provid[ing] attractive, affordable and diverse housing to complement the revitalization of Claymont while promoting an incrase in home ownership opportunities."

Regarding existing properties, the plan's goals include "enhanc[ing] the neighborhood character of Claymont, focus[ing] on property maintenance, upgraded appearance of historic areas, [and] the addition of attractive signage to promote neighborhood pride."

A major element of redevelopment would be the planned Delaware Department of Transportation safety and improvement project along Philadelphia Pike.

Referring to the pike as "Claymont's 'main street'," the plan said the roadway currently "presents a rather 'rough' appearance." It endorses such things as 'streetscape' enhancement, provision of marked crosswalks, traffic-calming devices such as bugles at intersections and reduction of the number of access points other than intersections.

Vehicular access in the Claymont Center commercial area would be by way of alleys behind the buildings, where there also would be provision for parking. Depicted on one of the maps included in the plan are 'Claymont Alley' and 'Adams Alley'.

The guidelines document contains an extensive catalog of provisions illustrated by what are described as graphics "intended to illustrate the objectives of the guidelines [but] not intended to illustrate how to meet requirements." The provisions are alternately referred to as 'guidelines' and 'standards'.

Criteria to be used in judging proposed development include "compatibility with surrounding uses in terms of scale and adherence to the traditional architectural styles and materials." New and remodeled buildings are expected to fit in with their surroundings to the extent that a common front or devices giving the appearance of a common front are called for.

It is envisioned, particularly in the Claymont Center area, that buildings will not be set back from the sidewalk. Another nod to historic ambiance is reference to buildings having street-level stores with office space and living quarters on the second- and, if there is one, the third level.

Such features as public art, decorative as well as functional lighting, sidewalk benches and sheltered bus stops are included among the communal elements in the guidelines.

While building compatibility and interconnectivity are accented, the guidelines say that no specific architectural styles are neither designated as preferred nor excluded. But it does list several provisions as pitched roofs, "pedestrian-scale" façades and use of "traditional materials ... such as brick, stone and stucco" as elements of "good urban design."

Listing economic development as a necessary element of "sustainable growth" and recognizing the newly formed nonprofit Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation as the instrument for achieving that, the plan declares that it "will not stifle commercial, residential and industrial growth." But it goes on to say that such growth should preserve and enhance "the character of ... existing historic neighborhoods."

It calls for continuation of what it refers to as four-year cooperative community effort, as the result of which "Claymont serves as a shining example of civic participation in community issues."

© 2004. All rights reserved.

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