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3/5/2014
Will Darley Green ever deliver community revival in Claymont?

Some New Castle County officials fear that Darley Green, the mixed-use project once hailed as the centerpiece of an economic renaissance in Claymont, could be downscaled into a mere upscale apartment complex.

The commercial component of the plan was once promised to be 40,700 square feet in the mixed-use development, with multi-level parking towers, shops that made up a walkable village, and a combination of upscale apartments and townhomes. The commercial space was reduced to 18,000 square feet in October 2012, a month before County Executive Tom Gordon took office.

Councilman Bob Weiner – who voted for the reduction at the time – said Tuesday he regrets his decision. He thinks the new plan will "eviscerate" the goal of Darley Green as a more significant development.

"My vote was wrong," Weiner said. "Now I'm trying to fix the mistake. All I have now is my power of persuasion to urge the developer to restore the commercial component to its initial scope."

 

Will Darley Green ever deliver community revival in Claymont?

Adam Taylor, The News Journal March 5, 2014

Some New Castle County officials fear that Darley Green, the mixed-use project once hailed as the centerpiece of an economic renaissance in Claymont, could be downscaled into a mere upscale apartment complex.

The commercial component of the plan was once promised to be 40,700 square feet in the mixed-use development, with multi-level parking towers, shops that made up a walkable village, and a combination of upscale apartments and townhomes. The commercial space was reduced to 18,000 square feet in October 2012, a month before County Executive Tom Gordon took office.

Councilman Bob Weiner – who voted for the reduction at the time – said Tuesday he regrets his decision. He thinks the new plan will "eviscerate" the goal of Darley Green as a more significant development.

"My vote was wrong," Weiner said. "Now I'm trying to fix the mistake. All I have now is my power of persuasion to urge the developer to restore the commercial component to its initial scope."

Darley Green used to be in Weiner's district, but now is in Councilman John Cartier's district.

Cartier said he doesn't see the scaled-back version of Darley Green being ratcheted back up.

"This project is still critical, very critical and a big driver for Claymont's future," Cartier said. "Is it going to be the idealistic vision that was represented a decade ago, before the great recession? No. Is it going to have some of all the features of that plan? Yes."

County Land Use General Manager Eileen Fogarty disagrees with Weiner's view that reductions in the project size have decimated it. She thinks that 18,000 square feet of retail space is enough for it to succeed. A reduction to 9,000 square feet of retail, however – which is allowable under the approved plan if the developer has trouble filling the space – could be problematic for Darley Green's success, she said.

"Right now, today, the numbers can still work," Fogarty said. "But the developers have to work hard to get that retail in there. There has to be a real, aggressive effort to bring in those tenants."

The residential component of Darley Green also was reduced in 2012, from 1,226 units to just fewer than 1,000, county Planner Anna Grosso said.
To date, 130 of the housing units have been built and building permits have been requested for about 20 more, according to Don Robitzer, a homebuilder who is constructing some of the Darley Green units.

Robitzer used to be part of the Commonwealth Group, Darley Green's original developer. Louis Capano III's company acquired Darley Green in 2012 in a "friendly foreclosure," buying the note on the property for roughly 30 cents on the dollar from Bank of America.

In recent months, Capano representatives have approached the county Land Use Department about more changes, Fogarty said, although she wouldn't specify the changes.

"We met with them, will look over the plans and will work with them," Fogarty said. "But the county intends to make sure that whatever is built has the quality, character, details and design of what has already been approved. We're not going to approve anything that would hurt any of that."

County planners and representatives for the developer are currently talking about the affordable housing component of the project. Ten percent of the units must be affordable housing units. Robitzer said the developer's updated plan to comply with the provisions of the agreement will be submitted to the county this week.

Gordon said he trusts Fogarty's analysis of the project. He said he will make sure that county planners make sure his worst fear isn't realized: That Darley Green eventually turns into something similar to the Brookview Apartments, a crime-plagued complex that was demolished to make way for the new development.

"The old developer planned to make a profit, so I don't want to hear that the new developer can't make a profit after he bought it cheap," Gordon said. "I want them to build something nice. We're not going to approve any more changes that would make it worse."

The county has banked on the project, locating the new Claymont Library within the boundaries of the development, rather than along Philadelphia Pike.

Capano attorney Bill Rhodunda said his client is building a quality product.

"What we're building is going to be consistent with the original version of what the new community would be like," he said. "We're in full compliance with everything that has been approved by the county."

Contact Adam Taylor at 324-2787 or ataylor@delawareonline.com

 

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