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September 16, 2005


Even before the conceptual plan for redeveloping the Brookview complex has been moved to the preliminary proposal stage in the county's approval process, it apparently has triggered the start of associated communitywide renewal that Claymont Renaissance backers have long said will happen.

A development firm which was among the unsuccessful bidders to buy Brookview has bought an adjacent property on Philadelphia Pike opposite Manor Avenue and intends to redevelop it in alignment with what tentatively is being referred to by some as 'Brookview Two'.

"We're accelerating our plans [and] we'll work with Commonwealth [Group]," Brad Tate, of  Westrum Development Co., told the monthly joint meeting of the Renaissance and the community Design Review Advisory Committee. "We welcome this opportunity."

County Councilman Robert Weiner said the company which owns the  Tri-State Mall has agreed to begin discussion of a possible upgrading of that shopping center and the "sea of dead asphalt" that is its expansive parking lot.

Councilman John Cartier said there also will be an effort to significantly "improve the appearance of" the Claymont train station with U.S. Senator Joseph Biden seeking to obtain federal financing to do so.

Also in the works, the meeting on Sept. 15 was told, is renovation of the shopping center at Philadelphia Pike and Harvey Road and replacement of the separate Goodwill Industries building opposite the new Wawa convenience store and gasoline station.

Interest in remaking the state's northernmost community has been "enormously stimulated" by the Brookview project, Cartier said. There already are indications of an upward movement of property values in the area.

Beyond that, he added, the Brookview project "is going to cause huge changes in [how] we regulate land use in the county" through the periodic updating of the  comprehensive plan new getting underway and revisions in the Unified Development Code.

"This project has really broken open the discussion. ... We're going to have far-ranging dialogue," he added.

Westrum's participation will likely be a key element in the Commonwealth-Setting Properties joint venture to turn Brookview into a considerably larger and more upscale community. It is proposed that the  property that Westrum has acquired, which now includes the Midas Muffler shop, will be bisected by an extension of Manor Avenue which will serve as the community's main east-west street.

Tate said his company's thinking is to locate retail establishments along the street. They would occupy the first floors of an unspecified number of  four-story buildings, with apartments above the stores. The buildings, he said, would comply with design standards embedded in Claymont's 'hometown' zoning.

Brookview is not included in the 'hometown overlay', but it is expected that Cartier will introduce legislation to bring it in. Commonwealth also has agreed to comply with the standards.

Tate said that Westrum expects to be able to present a conceptual plan within about 90 days.

Westrum, which is based in Fort Washington, Pa., specializes in redevelopment with emphasis on so-called 'brownfield' redevelopment; that is, restoration of older unused or underused sites. It has several projects going in Philadelphia, he said.

Meanwhile, Weiner said, Commonwealth's proposal for Brookview will likely be filed as a preliminary sketch plan with the Department of Land Use this autumn. That is the first step in the process for obtaining county approval for development. Although county officials reputedly have guaranteed Commonwealth virtually clear sailing, the process appears likely to be extensive in dealing with deails.

As previously reported, the proposal provides for constructing 1,200 residential units, about double what now exist in Brookview, and relies on 'hometown' density standards rather than those in the Unified Development Code. Also included is a proposal to swap open space -- a combination park and stormwater drainage area -- in the redeveloped community for land in Woodshaven-Kruse Park on which to build a multi-unit condominium.

Commonwealth senior vice president Robert Ruggio told the meeting that there will be some rental units in the community and that so-called 'affordable housing' will be included. He said at this point he cannot be specific about how many of each but that they "will not be the main component."

He agreed with Cartier who said that lack of 'affordable housing' is a major problem in New Castle County. "It's nice to have 'mc-mansions' on [large] lots, [but] our [development] code is only serving the middle and top ends of the market," he said. "We have a social mission to provide options for all the people of the county."

Weiner said it will be necessary to overcome preconceived notions about what is meant by 'affordable'. It is not low-income or subsidized housing, but housing that is compatible with surrounding areas while being within the means of young families at the start of their careers and older folks with limited incomes. He said a price range of $160,000 to $175,000 would be considered 'affordable'.

He said another aspect of the redevelopment proposal will be to overcome 'institutional impediments' to so-called 'new urbanism' design when it comes to "building villages."

The development code, for instance, requires obtaining approvals to move back and forth between commercial and residential uses of a property. Over a period of time, "you can't go from a house to a coffee shop to an office and back again to a house," he said. Also, he added, state fire regulations oppose on-street parking on main streets.

Consequently, he said, Brookview will be a "pilot project for a paradyne shift in how we do development in New Castle County."

2005. All rights reserved.

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