Plan to raze 1799 Forwood school on Silverside road met with traffic concerns
XERXES WILSON THE NEWS JOURNAL 7/9/15
Plans to raze a 1799 schoolhouse and develop the property it sits on met objections from neighbors over traffic and the school’s fate on Wednesday. Concerns over congestion were countered by residents who felt the development is an improvement over the aging commercial options in the area.
Developer Joe Setting, of Montchaninbased Setting Properties Inc., wants to raze the former Forwood School near Silverside and Marsh roads to make way for Branmar Commons, a 37-townhomeand commercial project. About 100 local residents gathered at Brandywine Hundred Library to discuss the proposal with the developer.
Plans for the 12-acre site call for three-story townhomes and five buildings with 30,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, a bank, coffee shop and pharmacy. “Adding 37 townhomes is the potential for 70 more cars,” said Eileen Smith, a local resident. “Now you are going to have all those restaurants. The intersection at Marsh and Silverside is already shot.”
Larry Tarabicos, a land-use attorney representing Setting, said preliminary plans indicate the need for a traffic light at the development’s entrance off Silverside Road directly across from Branmar Plaza. He stressed that the project is still in its infancy, with traffic studies and county approval processes likely to take two years.
Tarabicos described the project as an upscale, village setting. The homes will be arranged with the businesses to encourage pedestrian activity – an improvement from the strip malls that sit nearby, he argued.
The project is planned for one of the last undeveloped parcels in Brandywine Hundred. Despite concerns over traffic, some argued the project is an improvement to the aging commercial offerings near the intersection of Marsh and Silverside Roads.
“Someone said we don’t need more restaurants. Yes, we do. We need to build up a presence and property values,” said Meredith Rosenthal, a local real estate agent. “If there is a way to make this work, we need to improve the look of north Wilmington.”
Others decried the plan to raze the old Forwood School and replace it with a smaller replica built from the school’s recovered stone.
The school was originally owned by the Forwoods, a prominent family of early Delaware settlers. The school was built shortly after the General Assembly in 1796 approved a school fund using marriage and tavern license fees for public education – one of the first in the nation.
The school was unique because it was public – before then, teaching often was done in churches, or neighbors hired a teacher. Forwood provided a resource to children of the modest farmers and craftsmen of Brandywine Hundred. The school building was the longestserving school building in the state hosting students from 1799 to 1939. “That school should stay. The [replica] looks like an outhouse in a park,” said Marian Timmons, who lives on Marsh Road. Setting said the building’s lack of foundation leaves it beyond salvaging. He said the replica would honor the property’s history.
James Hanby, a local history enthusiast whose family roots date to the earliest settlers in Brandywine Hundred, noted the property sat decaying for years without outcry.
“Everyone shows up for the meeting, but nobody pulls out their checkbook,” Hanby said. “If you want to get angry about losing the oldest school in the continental United States, then you need to get with County Council to create a historic preservation ordinance so this wouldn’t happen.”
Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787.
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