October 13, 2004

Conferring 'hometown' zoning status on a core area along Philadelphia Pike has flashed a green light for launching an aggressive effort to attract commercial and residential development to Claymont.

"The idea that Claymont hasn't been business-friendly is wrong," George Lossť, president of the Claymont Community Coalition and chairman of the Claymont Renaissance steering committee, told a recent meeting of the leaders of areawide civic organizations.

He and others have cited the coming of a Wawa gasoline station and convenience store and a Dunkin' Donuts shop, the replacement of a McDonald's fast-food restaurant with a new one, and total renovation of what long ago was a variety store into a combination retail establishment and apartments as evidence of that attitude.

But the plan now is to follow receptivity to such development with a serious campaign to attract significant additional investment.

"We're about to roll out the red carpet. We expect development to snowball soon," said Brett Saddler, president of the Claymont Business Owners Association and the recently-formed Claymont Renaissance Development Corp.

In a presentation before the monthly meeting of the civic leaders convened by County Executive Tom Gordon and chief administrative officer Sherry Freebery, Saddler said there have already been

some preliminary contacts with prospective developers. "Our target market is the Philadelphia region. The tax rate in southeastern Pennsylvania is unbelievable and it's easier to get to center city [Philadelphia] and the airport from here than it is from northeast Philadelphia," he said.

As expected, County Council on Oct. 12 unanimously approved ordinances providing 'hometown' overlays for both Claymont and Hockessin.

Councilman Robert Weiner, who sponsored the enabling ordinance, said it provides an avenue for "a community that is looking forward to its revitalization."

James Smith, assistant general manager of

Philadelphia Pike, shown here at its intersection with Seminole Avenue, is slated to become Claymont's 'Main St.' A highway safety improvement project will include planting trees and other landscaping, part of an effort to give the community a village atmosphere and promote pedestrian traffic. The building at the left is being renovated.

the Department of Land Use, said 'hometown' zoning is intended to "encourage redevelopment of relatively large areas where infrastructure already exists."

Viewed in an historic context, the new arrangement confers identity on places, like Claymont and Hockessin, which predate suburbia but, until now, have not had a formal existence. They will remain unincorporated in the legal sense, but will have an identity along with a measure of control over their future.

An overlay is an additional classification imposing zoning and land-use conditions supplementing or superseding the requirements of an area's basic zoning classifications. With 'hometown' that involves requiring future development to comply with published design guidelines and meet some specifications regarding such things as setbacks, parking, buffers and the like which differ from those imposed by the Unified Development Code. Existing properties are not covered unless major changes in their use or appearance are proposed.

Development plans will still require approval by the Department of Land Use and in some cases County Council, but are subject to an advisory process conducted by an unpaid design review advisory committee -- already being tagged with the pronounceable acronym 'drac' -- made up of community residents appointed by the county executive. It is anticipated, however, that there will be considerable prior discussion of and negotiation about features of the proposals before the committee decides on its recommendations.

Nominees to serve on the Claymont committee whose names have been submitted to Gordon are: John DiCostanza of Joe & Tony's Service station, to be chairman; Thomas Comitta, the Renaissance's urban planning consultant, to be vice chairman; Carolyn Mercandante of the Claymont Historical Society; Frank Brevoort of Princeton Arms Apartments; Thomas DeCristofaro of the Claymont Fire Company; Vernalee Frey of Claymont Hardware; Carol Sloan of Sun Oil; Lossť; and Saddler.

Saddler included promoting residential development as a major component of what the development corporation plans. "We need affordable housing so young couples can afford to buy and live in a village atmosphere," he told County Council.

At the meeting with civic leaders, Lossť said replacement of the Brookview Apartments complex is a key element of future plans. "Redevelopment of Claymont has a lot to do with what happens there," he said.

Council, however, actually enacted a substitute version of the ordinance which dropped the area occupied by Brookview from what had been proposed in the original version to be the overlay area. That was done, Lossť told Delaforum, in order to keep the apartment complex under the full purview of the Unified Development Code because that "is more restrictive than what we will have" under 'hometown' zoning.

Saddler cited composition of the development corporation's board of directors as reflective of the level of its development-recruitment effort. Directors are: Rich Heffron of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, Beverly Baxter of the Committee of 100, Barbara Necarsulmer of the Small Business Development Center, Scott Riegel of Riegel Properties, David Ames of the University of Delaware, Vandell Hampton of First State Community Loan Fund, Dale Ervin of the New Castle County Economic Development Council, Eileen Lowell of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., John Gilbert of the law firm of Heckler & Frabizzo, Dan Lesher of Patterson Woods Commercial Propoerties, Mercandante, and Lossť. In addition to Saddler, the officers are: Scott Traister of Edward Jones Investments, DiConstanza and Sloan.

Lossť said enactment of 'hometown' zoning was the culmination of an effort begun in 2000 when Gordon provided a grant of $25,000 to enable the coalition, business owners association and historical society to launch the Renaissance. He noted that Weiner has spearheaded the movement and been instrumental in raising money for it. The county Department of Land Use and Delaware Department of Transportation have also provided considerable support, he said.

Freebery said at the community leaders meeting that Claymont's having "a large group that has worked together for so long" was instrumental in bringing the Renaissance movement to this point.

"We're looking forward to approving things that are going to happen in Claymont," Lossť said.

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