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August 2008

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LAYOUT APPROVED: County Council unanimously approved changes in the development plan for Renaissance Village, but Councilman John Cartier tabled an ordinance that would use a new-to-Delaware method to finance most of the developer-provided infrastructure for the project. Also approved on Aug. 26 were changes in design guidelines to conform to the revised plan. Cartier said he postponed action on incremental tax financing and creation of a special development district to allow at least one more opportunity to "clear up misunderstandings" in the Claymont community about the financing arrangement.

Modifications to the plan give official sanction to what previously was described as a move to make Renaissance Village more attractive to potential commercial- and residential-property buyers. Cartier said county bond counsel Timothy Fry will discuss the financing arrangement and answer questions at the Aug. 27 open-to-the-public meeting of the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee, which begins at 5 p.m. in the Claymont Community Center. The soonest it can be brought back to County Council is at its next scheduled session on Sept. 16. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

Brandywine district schools fared better when measured against federal No Child Left Behind Act requirements this year than they did last.

Julie Schmidt, supervisor of research, told the school board that Mount Pleasant High will have to draw up a restructuring plan during this academic year because it failed to make 'adequate yearly progress', but that P.S. du Pont Intermediate and Hanby Middle made sufficient gains to have plans they drew up last year put on hold. Nevertheless, she said, those plans, along with those of Brandywine High and Talley Middle, will be implemented because they include "things we should be doing anyway" to improve student performance.

She told the board at its meeting on Aug. 25 that all the elementary schools except Darley Road measured up to the law's progress goals. Overall, district schools showed a 10% gain in the percentage of students achieving proficiency, she said. Sixty-one students kept the schools from making 'adequate' progress in reading and 54 in mathematics, with some overlap in those numbers, she said. Superintendent Jim Scanlon said data not yet made available probably will show that the district as a whole did not make 'adequate' progress as measured by the law's complicated formulas. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Next year, Scanlon said, the district will get a break because restructuring and changed attendance zones will qualify most, if not all, of its schools, other than high schools, as 'new' under the law's definitions and not bound by their past histories.

    

ENROLLMENT: There are 278 students enrolled in Pope John Paul II School -- 171 from St. Helena parish and 107 from Holy Rosary, according to Catholic diocese spokesman Bob Krebs. That reflects only a slight drop from the official count of 179 children in St. Helena Parochial School in the year that ended in June, but a large decrease from 204 at Holy Rosary. There was "far less" re-enrollment for this year at Holy Rosary and "hence the decision to consolidate" the two schools at St. Helena, Krebs said. Catholic elementary schools will reopen for the new academic year on Sept. 2. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

OVERFLOW:

Formerly called St. Helena Parochial School, it will open for the new academic year on Sept. 2 with a new name, Pope John Paul II School, and four modular classrooms (below) to accommodate increased enrollment as a result of accepting students from Holy Rosary Parochial, which the Catholic diocese closed at the end of the 2007-08 year. Robert Krebs, spokesman for the diocese, did not respond to a Delaforum request for enrollment data. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

PLAN REJECTEDThe Department of Land Use said "no new issues or comments" were raised at a recent public hearing on the Stoltz Realty-Woodlawn Trustees plan for a large retail and residential development at Concord Pike and Beaver Valley Road. Therefore, the department confirmed its previous rejection of the exploratory development plan. That decision, contained in an Aug. 14 letter to the applicants, was not publicly announced despite widespread interest, but was disclosed by County Councilman Robert Weiner. The department invited the applicants to submit a revised plan addressing points raised in the initial review. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

If County Council approves incremental tax financing and creates a special development district, homeowners in Renaissance Village will pay an annual special tax upwards of $1,026 for 30 years.

The tax will go into a fund to pay interest on and eventually retire up to $20 million of special-purpose bonds county government will sell to reimburse developer Commonwealth-Setting for $12.5 million worth of  sewers, roads and other infrastructure for the community. An additional $144 could be added to the special tax in any year that the fund falls short of what is needed to service the debt. For units sold as 'workforce housing', the amounts would be $502 and $71, respectively. The amounts will go up by 2% each year.

Using current rates and assuming the assessed value of the planned 1,226 residential units will be comparable to a typical middle-class suburban neighborhood like Brandywood, this year's property tax bill would be just under $1,700 -- $395 in county tax, $1,200 in Brandywine School District taxes and $100 in the vocational school district tax. The special tax would be in addition to that. If the developer were to apportion infrastructure costs evenly over both residential and commercial properties, it would add about $9,200 to the cost of residences sold at market rates on top of county impact fees of about $1,000. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

Many years later, they're still talking about traffic clogging the intersection of Concord Pike with Naamans and Beaver Valley Roads, but this time the fingers are pointing in another direction.

Jaynine Warner, representing A.I.G. Marketing, said traffic generated by a proposed complex there would pose a hazard for the firm's 1,000 employees. She said she has seen "40 to 50 cars lined up in our parking lot [waiting] to get out" at quitting time. When George Haggerty, acting general manager of the Department of Land Use, asked if A.I.G. was taking any traffic-mitigation measures, she admitted that a large majority of its employees work an 8:30-to-5 day. When development of the A.I.G. office site was being considered, 'failure' of the intersection was the main objection cited by opponents of that project.

Charles Landry, president of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred, and Jeffrey Bede, from the vestry of Grace Episcopal Church, led the expected parade of opponents of a shopping and residential complex on Woodlawn Trustees property at the intersection who raised the specter of adverse traffic impact at a public hearing on Aug. 5. Pam Scott, attorney for would-be developer Stoltz Realty, said she could not specifically address that issue until there is a new traffic-impact study. "We haven't worked out all the details yet," but the project is in tune with the county's comprehensive plan, she said. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

Commonwealth-Setting expects by mid-August to be able to identify the local builder that will begin work on the first residential section of Renaissance Village.

Robert Ruggio, executive vice president of Commonwealth Group, lead partner in the joint venture redeveloping the former Brookview

Apartments complex, said it is hoped that construction can begin in November with the first sample units ready about three months after that. Meanwhile, he said, utility work has begun on the site. Ruggio commented after a media event on Aug. 1 at which Claymont Renaissance Development Corp. received a $10,000 grant from county government. The corporation is a private organization fostering economic development in the entire Claymont area.

 County Executive Christopher Coons said the grant, which brings to $60,000 the amount of economic development money provided over the past seven years, is part of a "countywide investment in older communities." U.S. Senator Thomas Carper compared the Claymont project to riverfront development at the long-neglected site of the defunct Dravo shipyard in Wilmington, begun when he was governor. "Some people thought we were nuts. Now we're enjoying the fruits of [that] labor," he said. "When people don't take 'no' for an answer ... good things happen." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Development corporation executive director Brett Saddler said the organization "is

County Executive Coons speaking in front of a diagram of the planned Renaissance Village.

preparing a blueprint for similar neighborhoods in New Castle County."

Last updated on August 27, 2008

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