Story of Claymont Renaissance in New Castle County, Delaware
Marguerite Ashley and Bob Weiner
“They laughed when I sat down to play,” read piano
lesson advertisements of the mid-twentieth century. When the
gritty blue-collar community of Claymont started planning for
its future and calling it Claymont Renaissance, Delaware’s
development wise heads definitely smiled. Six years later, a
consensus-driven, neo-traditional redevelopment plan is ensconced
in New Castle County zoning law, and industrial Claymont is the
cutting edge of smart growth in Delaware.
The civic partnership called Claymont Renaissance has assembled
strong financial, regulatory, and political commitments from
state, county, and private interests. In addition to a County
commitment to modernizing an aging sewer system and a State commitment
to multi-modal streetscape improvements, more than $130 million
of new private investment capital is underway or planned for
housing, offices, retail and parks. All of the new construction
will occur within a design ethic that respects the development
pattern of a place that was old when the twentieth century was
new. Harvest-time has arrived for the time-consuming and sometimes
arduous growth process called public visioning.
Smart growth and affordable housing are not mutually exclusive.
We have long predicted that housing affordability would follow
when land-use regulations allowed for compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly
redevelopment close to transportation, jobs, and amenities. And
Claymont Renaissance is proving the point.
Elsewhere in New Castle County, the real estate market and land-use
regulations have inhibited production of housing affordable to
households earning below the county’s median income of
$74,000. Now in Claymont, a carrot and stick model for affordable
housing development has emerged. Its centerpiece is a regulatory
tool called the Hometown Overlay, a zoning codification of Claymont’s
historic development patterns, as well as a package of powerful
economic incentives for developers. The incentives include certainty
in development approvals, streamlined permitting, and housing
densities nearly double those allowed in the County’s Unified
Development Zoning Code.
The impact of the incentives can be seen in the latest and highest
profile development project for Claymont Renaissance, the intensely
negotiated redevelopment of the 66-acre aging and largely dilapidated
rental community of Brookview. The developer, attracted by Hometown
Overlay incentives, has agreed to produce 240 units of affordable
housing, or 20% of the total 1,200 units planned. Most of the
new housing will be homeowner units, rather than rental properties.
That will benefit a community with a homeownership rate of just
52%, which is well below the county’s average homeownership
rate of 74%. The affordable homes will sell for approximately
$165,000. Of approximately 350 residents in the original rental
community, 200 households have found other affordable rental
housing, with about half of them still living in the Claymont
area. Several original residents have bought their first homes.
The county is offering home ownership counseling to the original
Brookview residents, about 50 to 100 of whom are expected to
qualify to buy one of the new affordable homes.
The Brookview redevelopment project is the first use of inclusionary
zoning in Delaware. It is ideally located in a village-like setting
of mixed land uses and incomes, and is served by an excellent
public transportation system that includes commuter rail. The
new traditional neighborhood community was designed by industry
leaders the Torti-Gallas group, in conjunction with public input
from a week of intensive design charrettes. The concept plan
includes narrow streets, alleys and garages behind buildings,
public green spaces, and community meeting facilities grouped
around two broad, well-landscaped avenues, in conjunction with
an adjacent six-acre commercial redevelopment project.
Affordable housing is a hot topic today in New Castle County.
Home prices have jumped 20% since 2004, and new County Executive
Christopher Coons has made affordable housing a priority for
his administration. In fall 2004, the County convened a large-scale
citizen participation process as part of the revision of its
Comprehensive Plan, and the County Council has convened an ad
hoc affordable housing committee. The ideas on the drawing board
include accessory dwelling units (granny suites), which are slated
for county council consideration in the fall, and county-wide
inclusionary zoning. An inclusionary zoning ordinance is expected
to be considered by the end of 2006.
The county also is working to create a housing trust fund to
supplement federal housing funds, and “homeownership zones” with
enhanced homebuyer incentives. The incentives that are being
considered for developers include increased density allowances
and expedited development approvals.
The background for these discussions is the zoning flexibility
and maturing smart growth principles which the Claymont Renaissance
effort has brought into the public consciousness. Claymont will
likely be the incubator for new affordability strategies in New
Castle County, just as it has been for inclusionary zoning.
For more information, go to: www.claymontrenaissance.org/
Marguerite Ashley is a housing planner for New Castle County.
Robert Weiner is a New Castle County Councilman and attorney
who spearheaded the Claymont Renaissance project. Councilman
Weiner also chairs the National Association of Counties Sustainability