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Claymont Renaissance discussed at Stone School

Brandywine Community News
By Kevin Barrett
Staff Reporter

The Claymont Renaissance, a plan to improve Claymont both aesthetically and functionally by creating a more pedestrian friendly, village-like atmosphere, was discussed at a meeting at the Claymont’s Stone School Saturday.

A linchpin of the plan involves the demolition of the area known as the Brookview community, a 67-acre, low-rent housing complex consisting of about 600 units. On the site will be built a new community consisting of 1221 mixed-use units, meaning they can be used for both residential and commercial purposes.

The Brookview community was purchased for $32 million as a joint venture between real estate development firm The Commonwealth Group and partner Setting Associates. The new community was designed by town planning and urban design firm Torti Gallas in accordance with the guidelines that had already been developed for Claymont. The current community’s demolition is scheduled to begin in the fall.

Councilman John Cartier (D-Penny Hill) said that the county is
working to relocate the 200 households that still reside in Brookview.
Councilman Bob Weiner (R-Chatham), a proponent of the Claymont Renaissance since the project began 2000, said the new community will be a town center for Claymont, and has been designed so that residents won’t have to rely on cars, but can walk everywhere they need to go. Rezoning of the area, from its current classification of “garden apartments” to “mixed-use” is scheduled for June 13. Building the new community will take about 5 years.

Weiner told the crowd of about 30 that the area being built as pedestrian friendly, transit-reliant village is a throwback to the way areas used to be
laid out before cars became commonplace.

He said not being reliant on cars is becoming more and more necessary
because of the rising costs of gasoline. People will be able to have cars, of
course, and there will be limited onstreet parking as well as parking
behind buildings. The area, Weiner said, was also designed so as to be lived in by a mix of social classes, and will be addressing the issue of the lack of affordable housing in New Castle County. 10 percent of the new housing units will be set aside for first time homebuyers and workforce housing, meaning they will sell for $160,000 to $200,000. The rest will be sold at market price, or
between $300,000 and $400,000. One of the goals is to increase the rate of
homeownership in Claymont, which is about 52 percent, to that of the rest of
the state, which is about 70 percent.

Weiner said the aesthetics of the new community are extremely important. The design emphasis, he said, is on a seamless architectural form rather than use, in that it doesn’t matter whether a unit is being used as an office, commercial business, or residence. The “mixed use” zoning classification
will allow a business to move out and a residence to move into any given unit, or vice versa, without requiring re-zoning.

Improvements are in the works for other areas of Claymont, including
building sidewalks and bicycle paths along Philadelphia Pike, as well as
enforcing design standards for buildings and signage along the roadway.
The design standards and concepts were planned by the West Chester, Pa.,
based town planning and architectural design firm Thomas Comitta and
Associates. The overall goal, Weiner said, is to make Philadelphia Pike a
pedestrian-friendly, traditional Main Street like those than can be found in
Newark, Manayunk, Pa., or Annapolis, Md., and to make Claymont an area people will want to visit, not drive through on their way someplace else.

Rive Brown, the education director of the Stone School, said the school
decided to hold a meeting Saturday afternoon because they are always looking to hold events of interest to the community, and because most of the meetings about the Renaissance are in the evenings. Brown said many of the members of the school are who prefer to attend events during the daytime.

Claymont resident Sarah Hess, who identified herself as being “over 65”,
said she’s been to several meetings about the renaissance, and is in favor of it because in the 40 years she’s been living in Claymont, she has seen the area go downhill.

“I think it’s a very good opportunity to see the area improve,” Hess said. Nannette Swadey, 51, of Brandywine Hundred attended the meeting with her mother Pat Swadey, 81, of Claymont. Nannette Swadey said she thinks what was talked about at the meeting is exactly what Claymont needs.

Pat Swadey, who has lived in Claymont since she was five and said she remembers Brookview when it was a farm, said the topics discussed at the meeting and the related memories brought tears to her eyes. She said she thinks the ideas presented at the meeting are good, because people drive too much and don’t do enough walking.

Bob McClure, 80, said he has been living in Claymont for 50 years and has a great interest in the community. He said the meeting was the first one related to Claymont Renaissance that he attended, and that he likes the plans as they were presented.

“I agree with everything I heard today. It all makes sense,” McClure said. “I see no downside.”

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