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January 24, 2006


Commonwealth-Setting Partnership is looking to break ground for the Brookview Apartments complex redevelopment project in about a year. While that appears do-able, there is some question whether repairs to the county sanitary sewer system can keep pace with the joint venture's five-to-seven-year buildout timetable.

Jonathan Husband, of the Department of Special Services, refused to be pinned down to giving firm assurance that the condition of the system in north Brandywine Hundred will provide sufficient capacity for about double the present number of residential units on the site as phased construction goes forward.

That will happen "if everything goes as everybody said it will," but until current rehabilitation of the two trunk lines carrying sewage along Governor Printz Boulevard to the sewage-treatment plant in Wilmington  is completed, "we won't have sufficient data" to be able to be able to say so with reasonable assurance, he said.

"I'm being optimistic," he added. "We're working along as best we can. We know what's at stake here."

At a briefing on the Bookview project before County Council's economic development committee on Jan. 23, Robert Ruggio, senior vice president of Commonwealth Group, confirmed that his firm is talking with Citi Steel and the Catholic diocese about the possibility of acquiring additional properties on which to develop housing for present Bookview residents who are displaced by the redevelopment and could not qualify financially to buy 'affordable housing' that will be built in the new community.

Brookview has allotted sewer capacity for its present  635 dwelling units and Ruggio said site preparation will include replacing, at the developer's expense, the entire system now serving the 66-acre complex. That will add to the allotment.

A big portion of the capacity problem is attributed to the deteriorated condition of sewers throughout the hundred. Broken and cracked pipes allow rain water to infiltrate into the system and it is additionally burdened by illegal hookups such as so-called French drains. Those things will continue after the trunk lines are replaced until they are remedied as part of the extensive rehabilitation of the aged Brandywine Hundred system, Husband said.

How extensive that drain on sewer capacity is cannot be determined until the trunk lines are replaced, which will be in about a year, he said.

Ruggio said the partnership has hired an engineering firm to meter present conditions in order to determine the extent of improvement wrought by replacing the Brookview system. County policy is to match that gallon-for-gallon.

While Husband cautiously said he thinks there will be capacity available for Brookview, he said he could not say if there would be enough for other economic development in Claymont, which Brookview redevelopment is expected to generate. "Unfortunately we don't have concrete evidence to [determine] that. We do not feel comfortable in making commitments ... [in] the five-to-10-year time frame," he said.

Scott Riegel, owner of Claymont Gardens Apartments, who told the committee that he and his wife are planning residential development on another property they own, said, "Our hands are tied as long as there is a sewer issue. ... We cannot wait 10 years."

Biagio Scoto said the sewer issue also is holding up plans to expand the Waterfall banquet hall to include a restaurant the some retail establishments.

James Smith, assistant general manager of the Department of Land Use, said that county government is committed to and has given extensive support to economic redevelopment of Claymont. Beginning with $25,000 of 'seed money' to get the Claymont Renaissance movement started in 2000, through helping pay for the services of planner Thomas Comitta, to the most recent grant of $25,000 to help Claymont Renaissance Development Corp. "lure developers to the area," the county has provided $189,000, he said. That does not count the value of the extensive amount of time put in by planners and other county employees.

While Ruggio unequivocally reiterated a pledge to support relocation of displaced Brookview residents, he said their economic circumstances will make that formidable. "The people are at poverty level or below," he said.

Brookview, which the partnership is now managing, is losing residents through normal attrition at the rate of 20 to 25 tenants a month, he said. That will reduce the population to between 50 and 100 households by the time demolition is ready to begin.

In most, if not all, cases their household incomes will be well below what would be necessary to make them eligible to qualify to purchase 'affordable housing' in the new community. That, he said, will likely be priced in the range of $165,000.

The partnership has agreed to make 10% of the units in the redeveloped community 'affordable' for first-time homebuyers and others with moderate-level incomes. In addition, it will build or otherwise provide an equal amount of such housing elsewhere in the Claymont area.

Ruggio said current thinking in that regard involves such possibilities as extending Knollwood farther into the Citi Steel property and building on the site of the former Children's Home on Green Street, which recently was put up for sale. Contact has been established with both owners, he said.

Even if those possibilities materialize, he said prospective buyers will likely need government subsidies.

"We want to be realistic about where we're going here," Councilman Penrose Hollins said. Brookview residents will have "to get in line" with others throughout the county who are seeking a limited amount of federal government housing assistance.

While not disputing that, Councilman Robert Weiner said, "There is a lot of federal [grant] money that we're leaving on the table for other jurisdictions."

Lack of 'affordable housing' is a countywide problem, Councilman Jea Street said. "We keep talking about it, but we're not doing anything specific," he said. "We need places for folks to say. We have people sleeping on the street throughout the county."

Councilman Joseph Reda said such things as adjusting the building code to allow 16-foot-wide housing, instead of a minimum 25 feet wide, would help lower prices. The narrower width is a common dimension of  row houses in Philadelphia.

"Some other jurisdictions have realized that great density is a solution," Weiner said. The prevailing attitude here, on the other hand, is geared toward producing housing for the high end of the market. "That kind of thinking is that poor people live in dilapidated houses and that [equates] to crime," he said.

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