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5/29/2008
Developers disclose revised plan for Renaissance Village

Delaforum
5/29/2008

Significant revisions to the Renaissance Village development plan -- evidently intended to make the huge project more attractive in the current real estate market --- are under review by the county Department of Land Use.

Victoria Davis, president of Urban Atlantic, told the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee that the plan envisions building seven kinds of structures on the 68-acre site.

It is still intended to have 1,226 residential units, she said, but the mix would be different from what was in the plan which received final approval from County Council a year ago. There also would be 57,000 square feet of retail and office space, an increase from 41,704 square feet in the approved plan.

Robert Ruggio, executive vice president of Commonwealth Group, said the developers remain committed to fulfilling their obligation to have 10% of the residential units in the project qualify as 'affordable', or 'workforce', housing. Under terms of the development agreement with county government, he said, the 2007 top selling price for those units, $170,000, escalates annually by 5%. That puts the ceiling at $185,000 in 2009, when the first units are likely to come onto the market, he said.

Scott Nordheimer, a senior advisor with Urban Atlantic, drew some adverse reaction at the meeting on May 28 when he said 90% of the residences in Renaissance Village will be 'affordable'. He went on to say the company defines 'affordable' as being within the means of households earning between 80% and 150% of median household income in the general area.

When committee member George Lossé questioned that, Nordheimer declared, "We're not [planning on] building low-income housing." Further discussion put the expected average selling price of the residential units into the $250,000-to-$300,000 range. Rental units would go for around $1,400 a month.

Those prices "are consistent with what Commonwealth thinks the market to be," Davis said

She added that Urban Atlantic, which specializes in 'new urbanist' development, would be adverse to doing anything to "bring about economic segregation."
Bethesda, Md.-based Urban Atlantic is described as 'co-developer' with the Commonwealth-Setting Realty joint venture.

If the new plan passes muster with the advisory committee, the land use department, the county planning board and County Council, construction will begin with a set of 'live-work' buildings at the entrance to the new community at Philadelphia Pike and an extended Manor Avenue. Davis described that phase as including the entire retail space in six structures. Five of the buildings would have convenience-type stores, restaurants and the like on the ground floor with 245 'class A' apartments above them. Atop one retail establishment would be medical or other commercial offices.

One of two planned community buildings, which initially would be used as a sales and management office, would be built behind the office complex. Also to be built would be a two-level parking garage. Ground-level parking would be for patrons of the shops and the 14-foot-high upper deck would serve the apartment residents.

Concurrent with that construction, an unspecified number of townhouses and other residential units would be built on the Darley Road side of the property. Because that kind of construction moves more quickly, she said some of those units probably would be the first to be sold.

Davis was vague about intended timing, saying only that current thinking is to begin building in late autumn or early winter. The first two sections could take up to two years to complete, she said. The rest of the community would be built in phases, extending out from there.

Throughout the development, hosing types would include four-story townhouses; condominiums designed to attract older residents; 'triplexes' which would be single-story 'flats' with two-story townhouses above them; 'manor' apartments; and single-family detached houses to serve as a transition with adjacent Ashbourne Hills.

A major change between the original plan and the proposed new one is the inclusion of garages within some of the structures. Most of the outdoor parking areas in the centers of residential blocks in the original plan would be redesigned as green space. The originally planned parkway-style extension of Green Street through the western side of the development would, instead, be built as a narrower roadway with abutting green space.

Davis claimed the revised plan was little more than "tweaking [with] subtle changes" the original one. "The framework is almost identical to the one in the original plan," she said.

She said the changes are intended to fit a variety of lifestyles and tastes. Starting with the retail establishments and apartments, she explained, is intended to "set the tone" for the overall community. Prospective residents who are interested in locating there would be hesitant to be "the first to buy," but "a person who can afford the rent [later] can afford to buy," she said.

The advisory committee took no action at the meeting because inclusion of the topic on its agenda had not been advertised in compliance with the open meeting law. Discussion leading to a committee recommendation will be included on the agenda for its June 25 meeting, according to Mary Grace Novak, the committee's liaison with the land use department. It also will be a topic at a Claymont Community Coalition meeting on June 19, coalition president Lossé said.

Renaissance Village could take as long as 10 years to construct, but the Commonwealth-Setting joint venture hopes to cut that to somewhere between five and seven years.

Timing "depends on the market," Robert Ruggio, executive vice president of the Commonwealth Group, told the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee. In his first public report since County Council gave final approval in June to the plan to put 1,226 residential units and 41,704 square feet of commercial space on the 68-acre site of the former Brookview apartments complex, he said the project is proceeding on a to-be-expected pace. Environmental remediation has reached a stage where initial demolition could occur in mid-November, he said. Actual building of the first townhouses is now projected to begin in August, 2008.

Ruggio provided a five-phase 'build-out' plan at the committee meeting on Oct. 24. The first phase will be the stormwater management area along Darley Road which also includes a set of 'sample' townhouses. He said the fate of the empty water tank towering over the project has not been determined.. It now holds four communications relay units. Promising to keep the community informed through representatives invited to bi-weekly project meetings, he emphasized that all work will continue to be done without impairing the health and welfare of children at Claymont Intermediate School and nearby residents. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

"This is a considerably large, complicated project that is going to go on for a considerable length of time," County Councilman John Cartier said.

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"I am grateful for Bob's decade-long support for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail, which follows Philadelphia Pike and Market Street into Wilmington. His presence and influence at the birth of our Delaware organization to develop this trail and to have it designated as a National Historic Trail was a key factor in keeping our hopes for the trail alive and growing."

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