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8/11/2008
A cornfield in need of more suitable plans for a cornfield - News Journal Editorial by Harry Themal

Harry F. Themal
Monday, August 11, 2008

On the southwest corner of the Concord Pike and Beaver Valley Road, the corn may not yet be as high as an elephant's eye but it can't hide the yellow New Castle County sign planted in the 40-plus acres to announce future plans. That future crop is almost bound to be construction. The site presents a dilemma for its owners, Woodlawn Trustees, about the best possible use along this busy highway.

The first plans for the site earlier this year, a 200,000-square-foot shopping center with more than a thousand parking spaces, met with almost unanimous disapproval. A major reason for the disapproval was the traffic nightmare it would exacerbate and for the proposed solution of right-turn jug handles to redirect vehicles through the busy intersection.

A third version of the plans was presented last week to the New Castle County Department of Land Use and Planning Board. They include 15 percent more commercial space along with a hotel, parking garage, a park-n-ride lot and three- and four-story apartment units, while preserving green space and creating a village green. It has a Web site, www.shopsatbrandywinevalley.com

It now has a new traffic proposal that does not include those dreaded jughandles, but it directs vehicles onto an extended Rocky Run Parkway into Ramsey-Thompson Bridge Road. The Delaware Department of Transportation will have a lot to say about this and it may also propose that the Concord Pike-Naamans Road-Beaver Valley Road failing intersection will get additional left-turn lanes.

I realize Stoltz Management of Bryn Mawr, Pa., developer for this and four other controversial sites in the county, must be doing marketing studies before it decides to pick up its 2010 option from Woodlawn Trustees and spends an estimated $80 million on this project.

As the rezoning and variance requests wind their way through the county bureaucracy, who knows whether the economy will have recovered sufficiently to justify the expenditures and whether funds will be available.

This layman has to wonder about the thinking for such a development. A 120-room hotel is proposed, yet less than a mile south on the Concord Pike are three hotels and directly across the pike is a motel.

Is new retail space needed when shopping centers such as the Concord Mall, the Brandywine Town Center and Market Square, all near the same intersection, are just some of the many malls fighting for tenants? No mention was made this time of leasing an anchor store to Whole Foods. That company just announced it's curbing its expansion and even suspending its dividend because sales growth has so significantly fallen. Anyway, there's already a supermarket adjacent to the site.

Perhaps more of the solution lies in actually making it a mixed-use site. Pamela Scott, the attorney representing Stoltz, told a public meeting that a quarter of the land would be 87 residential units.

That is more along the lines of what a key opponent, Councilman Bob Weiner, has been suggesting. He considers the site ideal for a restricted senior community for people who want to leave their empty-nester single-family homes. Some shops, bus service, restaurants, perhaps a medical center and other amenities would become part of a village redevelopment. Residences would probably not produce heavy traffic in the morning and evening rush hours.

Stoltz calls its Shops at Brandywine Valley "an environmentally friendly mixed-use village center" for "people to live, work, shop and play in one place." That doesn't take into account the people from the outside who may also want to use the facilities, but it does make a start toward a compromise use of the site. The plans are certainly a far more palatable potential for the future of that cornfield.

Harry Themal has been writing for The News Journal since 1959.

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