40 and 50 housing units intended to be sold for
about $100,000 will be built by Habitat for Humanity
on vacant land in Knollwood, Robert Ruggio, senior
vice president of Commonwealth Group, told County
Council before it approved rezoning the Brookview
apartments complex property.
Ruggio, who serves as point
man for the Commonwealth-Setting Properties joint venture
which plans to redevelop the site, made the announcement
after two members of the Brookview Tenants Association
charged that present low-income residents are being
victimized by what is being generally regarded as a poster
project for 'new urbanism' in not only New Castle County but
also the rest of the nation.
"We tenants wanted to be on
the bus instead of under its wheels," said Mary Ann Mason.
"It's another case of the rich taking advantage of the
poor," according to John Rolph.
Their comments evidently
swayed one Council member. Jea Street cast the only vote
against rezoning saying he could not support clearing the
way for a project that would "run the poor folk out of
"No one stood up and said,
'We want to go.' They were not asked; they were told they
had to go," he said.
Accusation that the interests
of present low-income tenants were ignored was staunchly
denied by Ruggio; Councilman John Cartier,
lead sponsor of the rezoning ordinance; Anne Farley, general
manager of the county Department of Community Services; and
other supporters of the project.
Approval of rezoning to allow
for a mix of residential and commercial uses of the property
within 'hometown' zoning guidelines, which allow
considerably greater density than is normally permitted
under the Unified Development Code, was conditioned on the
developer agreeing to an unprecedented development
agreement. Among other provisions, that agreement calls for
including about 120 'affordable', or 'workforce', units in
the new Brookview and building 120 at other locations in the
county. It carries roughly the same authority as deed
The units to be built at
Knollwood count toward the off-site requirement. Ruggio did
not provide details of the arrangement with Habitat nor
offer a timetable for when the new housing will be
Council at its session on
June 27, also agreed unanimously to a resolution formally
authorizing County Executive Christopher Coons to sign the
agreement, which is already signed by Ruggio on behalf of
Brookview Townhomes Redevelopment l.l.c., the joint-venture
It defines 'workforce'
housing as units to be sold initially for no more than
$150,000, with allowable annual increases to that ceiling in
Councilman Robert Weiner,
cosponsor of the rezoning ordinance and an originator of the
Claymont Renaissance movement which, over the course of five
years, spawned the redevelopment project, acknowledged that
there are several Brookview residents who cannot afford
$100,000, let alone $150,000, or comparable-level rents.
However, he added, that efforts by Commonwealth-Setting and
the county department have resulted in relocating low-income
residents, "the overwhelming majority [of whom] are
satisfied and have lower rents" while enjoying better living
During a Council finance
committee meeting earlier in the day, Martin Harris,
director of the Center for Sustainable Communities, a unit
of the Washington-based National Association of Counties,
said the Brookview project "is being recognized at the
national level and is really a model for what's going on
around the country."
Harris was in town to
ceremonially present a $5,000 prize to the county for
Brookview, one of three winners in the association's annual
competition. Council agreed to pass the award on to Claymont
Renaissance Development Corp. to help support its continuing
economic development activities.
Bruce Gorden, Brookview site
manager, testified before the rezoning vote that Brookview
Townhomes has spent "in the range of a half million dollars"
helping present tenants relocate. That includes refunding
security deposits and one-month's rent. He said there
presently are 100 households living there but that 94 have
given notice that they will move during July.
Farley said Community
Services is "committed to seeing that no one is left
homeless in the process" of vacating the property.
Street said he was not
critical of the department's efforts but referred to what he
described as a general trend, including within the city of
Wilmington, to uproot the poor. "They shut down Riverside.
They shut down Southbridge. All the homeless shelters in my
district are full," he said.
Cartier replied that he is
aware that the county has "a serious shortage of affordable
housing." He said he is committed to being pro-active in an
effort to remedy the situation, including making
"changes to our land use code."
Councilman Timothy Sheldon
said there are ample opportunities for needy people to earn
a living by joining building trades apprenticeship programs.
A bricklayer by trade, he said there is a shortage of
applicants for such programs. "Anyone who doesn't make
enough money is welcome to join a union," he said.