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Push to redevelop old Hercules golf course begins anew. Weiner: a full review will need to be completed

Councilman Bob Weiner said it will be up to Pettinaro to work with the county on a plan to alleviate the traffic.

"It is my opinion that a full review will need to be completed," Weiner said.
Xerxes Wilson, The News Journal 7:48 p.m. EDT July 6, 2016

New development plan follows a Superior Court case that killed a previous proposal to develop the property.

Development of the former Hercules Country Club in Mill Creek is more likely after developer Gregory Pettinaro this week said he will work with New Castle County to overcome traffic hurdles that led to years of legal wrangling and prevented construction of hundreds of homes along Lancaster Pike.

New Castle County Superior Court earlier this year rejected an attempt by Pennsylvania homebuilder Toll Brothers to override New Castle County government's rejection of its plan to develop the property. That plan was not approved because the developer's proposal to improve traffic flow at the nearby intersection of Centerville Road and Lancaster Pike was deemed inadequate by county officials.

At the time, Pettinaro was under contract to sell the land to Toll Brothers. Pettinaro said the contract no longer exists and his company, Pettinaro Construction, has submitted plans to build 263 homes on the 200-acre property that straddles Red Clay Creek near Lancaster Pike and Hercules Road.

The plan resubmitted for county review mirrors the previous development proposal rejected, but this time the builder is willing to find a solution to traffic rather than resorting to litigation.

Peter Christy, a resident of Little Falls Village and past president of the neighborhood's maintenance corporation, cheered the fact a local developer would be taking the reins on the future of land. His development was built on golf course property.

"He (Pettinaro) is known to local people and more importantly, his public statements are more cooperative than Toll Brothers," Christy said. "Coming in here with a lot of clout and money but a lack of empathy is not how you get things done. They just beat their head against the wall and bloodied their nose until finally the court rejected them."

With open space a rare prize in densely populated northern New Castle County, the former golf course is one of several being targeted by home builders.

Founded by the chemical company Hercules Inc. in the 1930s, the course closed in 2010 when it was known as Delaware National Country Club. Pettinaro has owned the property for eight years. He said it has been a burden to carry the vacant land and is now incentivized to find a solution to the traffic issue.

"We have been carrying the property for eight years, which is very expensive," Pettinaro said. "We are $3 million into approvals and engineers. The potential on the property is dwindling every day."

The recurring hurdle to building on the vacant land is county Land Use Department rules meant to limit traffic congestion by gauging the effect of a proposed development on surrounding roadways. The impact is measured by how long it takes motorists to get through intersections.
Private property signs mark the grounds of the former Hercules Country Club, later known as the Delaware National Country Club, at Lancaster Pike and Hercules Road in Mill Creek. A local developer has proposed a 264-home development on the 200-plus acres. (Photo: JENNIFER CORBETT/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

If an intersection is deemed failing by traffic analysts, the county can’t approve a development nearby unless the builder agrees to make sometimes-expensive road improvements to improve flow. Measures typically include widening roadways and adding turn lanes and traffic signals, sometimes miles from the project.

The intersection of Lancaster Pike and Centerville Road was already considered failing before the projected traffic from the country club development was factored in. Previously, DelDOT outlined a $3.5 million fix, and Toll Brothers had agreed to pay $1 million of that, according to the company's lawsuit.

But that solution was rejected by county planners, who said it would be inadequate to solve the traffic problem at the intersection. The project application expired as litigation dragged on.

Now that Toll Brothers is no longer involved, Christy said it is important that the necessary improvements come to fruition. He said peak traffic causes congestion on the road and the development will only make matters worse. He also noted the ongoing construction of Corporation Service Company's headquarters nearby that will add hundreds of vehicles daily to the road.

"It will go from bad traffic to impossible," Christy said.

Said Pettinaro of the plans resubmitted: "The rub last time was that the project constituted about 1.5 percent of the traffic at the intersection, and the county wanted us to redo the whole intersection. Why would we do that if we are only contributing 1.5 percent?"

Vehicles move along Lancaster Pike at Centerville Road, near the former Delaware National Country Club, earlier this year. (Photo: JENNIFER CORBETT/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

It's a common complaint in which developers argue their plans should not be held up by county traffic demands when the proposed project only adds to already congested intersections.

Government watchdog groups see the traffic rules as an important way of ensuring new developments don't further snarl local roads. The business community in recent months has pressured County Executive Thomas P. Gordon to find a solution to traffic rules they see as unfair. Builders say the rules stifle redevelopment of unused parcels in densely populated northern parts of the county.

In the four years the project was tied up in approvals and subsequent litigation, a new traffic signal and other road improvements have been added to the roadway nearby. It is unclear how those improvements will affect the project's approvals.

Pettinaro said he is confident a solution can be reached and his company is exploring paying the full, $3.5 million to $4 million cost to rework the intersection. He said those discussions, along with potential state money helping cover the cost, will be ongoing in the coming months.

Councilman Bob Weiner said it will be up to Pettinaro to work with the county on a plan to alleviate the traffic.

"It is my opinion that a full review will need to be completed," Weiner said.

Christy said his neighborhood will diligently watch the development process. Despite years of wrangling over the property, he knows development is inevitable.

"I personally would not participate in a 'stop the development movement,' " Christy said. "It is foolish. It is going to be developed. The land is too expensive."

Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter. 

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