Claymont residents comment on development options
By Kathy Canavan
About 130 people turned out to hear proposals for redeveloping northern Claymont at a second community workshop Monday night.
Government agencies presented four scenarios for the development of the 1.5 square acres bordered by Delaware River and the Pennsylvania border. Heather Dunigan, principal planner for the Wilmington Area Planning Council, told residents the hope was to shape further growth to match the vision of community residents.
Much of Claymont is, in planning parlance, “underutilized” and its easy access to i-95, I-495, DART, SEPTA, the Delaware River, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and Sunoco’s new natural gas facility makes it a logical spot for economic development.
Two of the largest sites are the 41-acre Tri-State Mall plot with a 513,896-square-foot mall that is partially emptied, and the former 425-acre Claymont Steel site.
Residents who attended focus sessions and the prior planning workshop said job creation, public safety and improved transportation routes were the top three concerns, Dunigan said.
Residents saw four scenarios for the 1,000-acre redevelopment area, which includes about 440 acres of vacant industrial land. All the scenarios included a new train station on the old Evraz Steel site on Philadelphia Pike. Each scenario included some heavy industry in Claymont, which has lost several major blue-collar employers.
The first and second scenarios included 24 percent heavy industry; the third 39 percent and the fourth 29 percent. The Coastal Zone Act, passed in 1971, prohibits heavy industry that was not in operation then, expansion of non-conforming uses beyond their footprints, bulk product transfer facilities that were not in operation then, and the conversion of existing permitted facilities to heavy industrial use.
But several business groups are campaigning to make the permit process simpler or allow more heavy industry or bulk transfer.
The plans shown Monday featured mixed-use retail and residential, institutional uses such as medical offices, waterfront open space, a green buffer along Naamans Creek and retail stores near established residential areas such as Knollwood.
All the plans incorporate improved transportation connections for residents, whether they walk, bike, drive or take a bus or train. The planners said that was one of the requests of residents who attended previous idea sessions.
After the introductory sessions, residents were asked to add their ideas to posters that posed questions about future development. Some residents added their ideas to the posters. When room ran out, others added sticky notes with questions and suggestions. Several filled out questionnaires.
Frances West, who lived on nearby Darley Road for 54 years, suggested that a train line from Claymont directly to Philadelphia International Airport would make Claymont a transportation hub for Northern Delaware.
Anita Sterling, a resident of Ashbourne Hills for 33 years, wrote “no money stores” on a sticky note, reflecting the sentiments of several others who wrote “No Cash for Gold” and “No Dollar Stores.”
Sterling said she was wary of heavy industry, but she would support light, clean industry: “It would bring jobs, I guess, but I don’t know. The people at Evraz Steel were good neighbors, but they came in and they found out it’s not doable and they left. We need businesses that will come in and stay.”
Ann O’Leary, who lived in Claymont 17 years, said she’d like to see the waterfront redeveloped to bring it back to what it was decades ago with paddleboats and recreation, but she’d also like to see light manufacturing that doesn’t pollute: “Light manufacturing is needed because we need jobs. If Sunoco is expanding, they’re welcome neighbors.”
Paul Calpin, who moved into the new Darley Green development two years ago, said he liked most of what representatives from several government agencies presented ““ except the heavy industrial: “I don’t want to see that much industrial, personally, especially heavy industrial. I just wouldn’t want to see heavy industrial on the waterfront. There should be retail on the waterfront. Light industry would probably be ok because it wouldn’t pollute.”
Brett Saddler, a Claymont resident who serves as executive director of the Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation, said Claymont has an industrial heritage so people don’t mind industry that provides solid blue-collar jobs for former steel workers who are now scrambling to start their own fix-it businesses or pouring paint at a big-box store. “People in Claymont want industry,” he said. “What people don’t want is they don’t want a big, spewing heavy industrial use there.”