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May 19, 2006

 

With redevelopment of the Brookview Apartments complex apparently on a fast track to necessary rezoning and ultimate approval of the subdivision plan, the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee was told a potentially more spectacular encore may be in the offing.

One of three parcels Citi Steel has put up for sale is a vacant 135-acre tract fronting on the Delaware River which could be developed into a mixed-use complex with residences, retail outlets and other commercial establishments, and offices, according to County Councilman Robert Weiner.

Potential developers "are beginning to see the possibilities" emanating from the community effort to rejuvenate Claymont, he said. "We took a property worth $8 million and made it worth $32 million, he added, with reference to Brookview.

The other Citi Steel tracts, he said, are 54 acres on Naamans Road adjacent to the company's scrap metal yard and 30 acres at Naamans Road and Philadelphia Pike across from the Robinson House.

If developed, the Claymont waterfront could easily rival, if not surpass, the success of riverfront development along the Christina in Wilmington, Weiner said.

For that to happen and for other element of Claymont's redevelopment to proceed as hoped, some fundamental attitude adjustment will be needed, Councilman John Cartier told the committee meeting on May 18.

He singled out Governor Ruth Ann Minner's inclusion of Claymont among purported accomplishments of her 'Livable Delaware' initiative during a recent presentation. "What has the state done for [us]? I'm tired of their not participating and then trying to take credit for something [with which] they're not involved," he said.

Meanwhile, he noted, the National Association of Counties selected the Claymont Renaissance movement and the Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation as one of 10 recipients of its 2005-06 'Sustainable Communities Award'. Claymont ranked in the top four in the judging for the award, a distinction which carried with it a $5,000 prize.

Cartier said the New Castle County Department of Special Services is lagging by not accelerating the providing of sanitary sewer capacity to accommodate demonstrated interest in economic development in Claymont. "They really don't have an idea about our sewer capacity. It's like they're in a dense fog," he said. "There must be no effort spared to bring sewer capacity to Claymont."

In response to Cartier's remarks, the committee enacted a resolution requesting the special services department, New Castle County government's public works agency, the be represented by someone conversant with the Brandywine Hundred sewer projecect at future advisory committee meetings. A Department of Land Use representative attends its meetings.

He predicted uncontested approval by County Council of the Commonwealth-Setting joint venture application to rezone the Brookview property to permit a combination of residential and commercial development. That will happen, he said when Council meets in June  for the second of three times it will consider rezoning ordinances this year.

The Planning Board considered the application at a recent meeting, but Delafourm has been unable to learn what it decided to recommend concerning the requested rezoning.

Rezoning, Cartier said, will be accompanied by approval of a first-of-it-kind development agreement with the county which provides for there to be 120 so-called 'affordable housing' units among the 1,200 residential units planned for Brookview. They will sell in the $165,000 range with other units in the community priced between $300,000 and $400,000.

The joint venture also has agreed to build another 120 'affordable' units at various locations throughout New Castle County. Of those, about 40 will be built in Knollwood.

Weiner said it is possible that some 'affordable' units will be included in Benchmark Builders' plans for the site of the former Children's Home on Green Street. Although it has been general knowledge for several weeks that that firm is acquiring the property, its owner, the Catholic diocese, has denied through a spokesman that a sales agreement has been reached and Benchmark also is close-mouthed about the deal.

The committee also was told at its meeting that another impediment to redevelopment is the slow pace at which proposals move through the county's approval process.

Darren DeMars, of Ameriprise Financial, which acquired the historic Weldin House, on Philadelphia Pike near Bellefonte, early this year, said the firm is anxious to renovate the structure for use as the office of its financial consulting business, but has been hampered not only be the pace of the process but also by lack of guidance about how to proceed. "We're hearing different things from everybody," he said.

Cartier said there is "a lack of common sense" in attempting to apply current development criteria to historic properties which, in the case of the Weldin House, date back to the 18th Century. "We can have our heritage and economic development" if reasonable accommodation is allowed, he said.

The committee also was presented with a draft of a proposed addition to the design guidelines it was established to help enforce by Jennifer Leister of the land use department. They call for signs the be "architecturally integrated" into the buildings they advertise. The various provisions deal with allowable sizes, lighting and content standards.

It also was reported at the meeting that Wawa is being fined $1,500 a month for failure to comply with an earlier agreement to repaint the façade of its convenience store at Philadelphia Pike and Harvey Road.

© 2006. All rights reserved.

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