with approval of Village plan
years in gestation, Renaissance Village is about to be given the
official green light by county government. The Department of
Land Use signed off on the ambitious development plan for the
'new urbanist' community on June 5 and County
Council will routinely approve it on June 12.
"We've done things everybody said
you couldn't do," said Councilman Robert Weiner.
Believed to be the largest-ever
residential development in Delaware, the new community on the
site of the former Brookview apartments complex is to be the
signature piece in the revitalization of Claymont.
"It will bring new life and new
people to the Claymont community," said Councilman John Cartier,
who represents the area and is primary sponsor of the resolution
confirming the subdivision plan which is all but certain to
receive unanimous approval.
Under terms of the Unified
Development Code, Council cannot reject such plans, but at most
can find that they have technical flaws and return them to the
land use department to have those corrected. There is no reason
to believe that will happen in this instance.
When the resolution was brought
before Council's land use committee on June 5, Councilwoman
Stephanie McClellan, chair of the committee, was the only one
besides Cartier and Weiner to offer any comments. Her remarks
Robert Ruggio, executive vice
president of the Commonwealth Group, told Delaforum that the
Commonwealth-Setting joint venture intends to begin demolition
of the existing buildings on the site not later than in August
and possibly in July. As previously reported, the build-out is
expected to take five to seven years.
It was revealed at the committee
meeting that an effort is underway to have Renaissance Village
declared a 'special development district' and thereby qualify
for tax-incremental financing. For that to happen, however, the
state law which authorizes creation of such districts by
municipalities would have to be amended to also give New Castle
County government that authority.
provides that redeveloped property retain its existing tax
assessment but that, in lieu of paying the higher tax that
increased value would command, the owner and future owners pay
into a fund to pay interest on and eventually retire bonds sold
to help finance redevelopment. Since the bonds are sold by a
government entity, their interest is generally exempt from
income taxes. That has the effect of
enabling the developer to borrow
at a lower than commercial interest rate to finance the project.
The debt is akin to a mortgage on the property and not a
'faith-and-credit' obligation of the government entity.
The bonds would have a maturity
in the range of 20 to 30 years. While the county would not
receive additional tax revenue as a result of the redevelopment
during that time, it would receive no less than if the property
were not redeveloped. The subsidy is justified by residual
effect of the project's contributing to improvement of the area
economy and quality of life.
Cartier explained that the
summer of the existing, now empty, structures of the
former Bookview apartments complex will mark the
physical beginning of the realization of a dream
sparked by a pair of community activists seven years
incentive is intended to
offset the additional cost of improving and-or replacing
existing deteriorated infrastructure. In the case of Renaissance
Village, he said, that primarily involves the existing
sanitary-sewer system which must be replaced as a condition
imposed by the land use department on its approval of the
The councilman told Delaforum
that Renaissance Village will go forward whether or not the
General Assembly enacts an amendment to the law before it
adjourns at the end of June. "It would be nice to have, but it
is not essential. Not having it will not hold up the project,"
He added that giving New Castle
County government the authority to create 'special development
districts' will provide a permanent tool to promote other
Another condition attached to
approval of the plan is that Commonwealth-Setting hire Torti
Gallas, a nationally-recognized urban planning consulting firm,
to oversee its compliance with design guidelines that were
incorporated into the ordinance which rezoned that property to
allow for greater density and other deviations from the Unified
Development Code that 'new urbanist' development requires.
Torti Gallas produced the conceptual design upon which the
guidelines are based.
Cartier said Commonwealth-Setting
was agreeable to that arrangement although it equates to having
an additional entity figuratively looking over the developer's
shoulder while Renaissance Village is being built.
Cartier added that imposing the
condition should not be regarded as a matter of distrust, but
reflects the facts that the project not only is relatively
massive in scope but also is the first of its kind to be
"We regulate land use in New
Castle County. We need to make sure what is committed to on
paper is what gets built," he said.
He added that budget constraints
and limited manpower restrict the amount of oversight the land
use department can provide and that it does not have any prior
experience with project-specific design guidelines. On the other
hand, he said, the department will have sole authority when it
comes to enforcing building and related codes, issuing permits
and conducting required inspections.
Cartier said that once Council
formally approves the project, Commonwealth-Setting will take on
a 'co-developer' to do the actual construction. He said he did
not know who that will be.
He also said that he could not
speculate on the project's ultimate pricetag other than to said
"it certainly will be at least a couple hundred million
The plan to be put before Council
provides for 1,226 residential units. They include 777
condominium apartments, 236 townhouses, 116 manor apartments, 55
mixed-use units, 26 duplexes, and 16 'live-work' units in
As previously reported, 10% of
the units must be 'affordable' or 'workforce' housing and
Commonwealth-Setting will be required to provide a matching
number of such housing elsewhere in the general area. Timing for
providing those units is tied to issuance of building permits as
the main project proceeds in incremental phases.
A total of 41,704 square feet of
commercial space is also provided for in the plan.
The community design is such that
"people of all socio-economic means can live here -- and they
can live without always needing an automobile," Weiner said.
"It's all about front porches as opposed to backyards."
He has frequently used the
shop work, play, pray and school your children" within
walking distance of where they live.
Renaissance Village will
contribute to transforming Claymont from "a place people drove
through" into "a place where they will want to stop," Weiner
Approval of the development plan
will come a month or so shy of seven years from when George
Lossť, president of the Claymont Coalition, and Dawn Lamb,
president of the Claymont Business Owners Association, enlisted
Weiner's support in approaching then County Executive Thomas
Gordon to obtain 'seed money' to launch what they were calling a
community renaissance. The term means 'rebirth' and derives from
the regeneration of the arts, literature and culture in medieval
Weiner represented that area
before his district was divided into two with the
reapportionment that accompanied Council's expansion from seven
to 13 members. Although not a resident of Claymont, he has
continued to serve as a staunch public advocate of its
revitalization and a sort of 'godfather' of the renaissance.
As Delaforum was the first to
report in the summer of 2000, the initial idea was
"refurbishing Philadelphia Pike and, possibly, other areas of
Claymont." Even then, however, the proponents had an eye on
eliminating the blighted Brookview apartments complex as a key
to the success of their intended venture.
Lossť, who has been actively
involved in Claymont Renaissance throughout its maturation and
is now a member of the community Design Review Advisory
Committee, hailed approval of the development plan and the
impending start of its implementation.
Renaissance Village, he said,
"will bring in an influx of younger people [many of who] will
get involved ... and drive Claymont forward."
"It's been years of hard work,
lots of meetings, lots of faith and prayer -- and finally it's
going to happen," Lamb said.