April 6, 2005

Developer Gregory Pettinaro told residents of the Paladin Club condominium complex that Edgewood Village l.l.c., the firm in which he is a partner, "will not be restoring the stone wall."

He was referring, in a letter to James Jones, president of the Friends of Paladin, to a stone wall along Paladin Drive which several residents allege was partly destroyed more than a year ago in a surreptitious move intended to clear the way for a not-yet-approved 20-unit townhouse development in the southeastern Brandywine Hundred community.

The entire wall has since been declared historic and, as Delaforum previously reported, Charles Baker, general manager of the county Department of Land Use, ordered the Pettinaro firm to hire a stonemason to put it back the way it was. The firm had previously been ordered to preserve the stones which were removed, but it cannot be determined if it complied.

The firm has appealed Baker's restoration order to the Board of Adjustment.

The letter containing the rejection, read at a meeting of Friends of Paladin on Apr. 4, was in response to several questions put to Pettinaro at a private meeting with county officials arranged by Councilman John Cartier. Officers of the Friends organization were included in that meeting.

Cartier told attenders at the civic meeting that the meeting with officials was arranged as part of his effort "to establish a dialogue" in hopes of "finding some middle ground" to resolve the controversy between residents and the developer. About 1,100 people live in the community; about 100 turned out for the civic meeting.

In the letter Pettinaro said also that "there are no current plans to change the operation of the clubhouse or its facilities other than the elimination of one tennis court." Part of the controversy involves the future of the community's recreation facilities, which residents consider to be amenities related to their condominium ownership.

"We're not asking for anything they did not promise us when we bought here," Jones said.

The Friends organization is attempting to have the community covered by an historic zoning overlay. Cartier, who represents the area, has agreed to sponsor the necessary legislation. The process begins with a review of the request by the Historic Review Board, the panel which declared the stone wall to be historic.

An overlay provides a limited amount of protection to historic properties, mainly by mandating some preservation efforts in the event of development or significant change to their appearance.

The request, according to resident Roy Jackson, is based on the site's former identity as the estate of the William Sellers family and as the Clifton Park Apartments, one of the first suburban developments erected soon after World War II. A stone house on the property is said to date to 1813. What is now the clubhouse was a barn dating to 1904, Jackson said.

Although Cartier said it now looks as if the stone wall controversy will have to be settled through a court suit, he said that the political climate in the county "has come around 180" since it was instigated.

The present administration of County Executive Christopher Coons, he said, "stands 100% behind the letter" which Baker sent to Edgewood Village l.l.c. informing it of his decision to order restoration of the wall. Political observers are generally agreed that Pettinaro had considerable influence during the previous Thomas Gordon administration.

Without being specific, Cartier agreed with Jones's comment that "not all 13 [members of County Council] are in our corner."

Cartier said that issue is politically symbolic. "It's not just about a wall," he said.

Some attenders at the meeting took issue with the hiring of lawyer Wendy Danner to be County Council's attorney. Danner formerly represented Edgewood Village and argued on its behalf during administrative proceedings related to what happened with the stone wall. As Delaforum previously reported, her appointment as 'counsel to Council' was a fait accompli before her identity as an applicant for the job was made known to the public. Coincidently, she began work in her new capacity on Apr. 4.

Cartier referred to Danner as "a highly qualified land use attorney" and noted that she has agreed to not participate in any action before council which involves any of the clients she had while in private practice. Earlier in her professional career, she worked for the county law department.

Yet another issue raised at the meeting was the fence which separates Paladin Club from neighboring Courtyard Apartments, which is said to be frequently cut by Courtyard residents seeking a shortcut. Pettinaro in his letter said that, with the completion of the 11th and final section of the condominium complex, responsibility for maintenance of the wall is now the responsibility of the maintenance organization established for that area.

Edgewood Village acquired the complex several years at an auction resulting from the bankruptcy of the former developer and has restored what once was long-neglected Clifton Park into an upscale residential community. The firm retains ownership of some of the property. In addition to building the proposed townhouses, it is believed likely to also develop the area which includes the former Edgemoor School.

"We are proud of the improvements we have made to the property and feel that the proposed development will be beneficial to all," Pettinaro wrote in the letter to Jones.

2005. All rights reserved.

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