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6/26/2006
Brookview rezoning and development agreement vote

By ANGIE BASIOUNY
The News Journal

06/26/2006

New Castle County will enter into a contract Tuesday that will be the first of its kind for the government.

The county will sign papers that turn a promise by the redevelopers of Brookview Townhomes into a legally binding agreement to include affordably priced homes at the site in Claymont.

The deteriorating, low-rent complex will be razed and rebuilt into an urban village with shops, restaurants, schools, apartments and homes costing up to $450,000.

The contract ensures that 10 percent of the new housing will be at affordable prices. Some of the homes will be sold at a maximum price of $165,000. Not quite low enough for the lowest of incomes, the price puts the homes in a category that developers and elected leaders are calling "work-force" housing.

Affordable apartments also can be part of the 10 percent, with the amount of rent to be determined by the county Department of Community Services.

"The county is crafting it as a moment in history right now because this is the first time it's ever been done," said Bob Ruggio of the Commonwealth Group, which purchased the site last August along with partner Setting Properties. "They are excited about it and we are excited about it."

The idea for the contract came from County Executive Chris Coons, who drew on his experience as an attorney for eight years at W.L. Gore & Associates.

"I learned there is often a gap between the excitement of something and what actually happens," he said. "That's why this needed to be a thorough, detailed agreement that is recorded as a note on the plan."

The contract, which is effective for 10 years, states:

• The $165,000 sales price can increase by no more than 5 percent every year.

• Work-force units must be dispersed throughout the property and the exteriors indistinguishable from other homes. The interiors must have the same standard features.

• If the original purchaser sells the home, the next buyer must qualify under income terms to be set by the Community Services Department.

• The county has the right to purchase work-force units. Coons said there are no immediate plans to do so.

• The developers also must build or rehabilitate up to 122 work-force homes or rental units off site. That number is 10 percent of the total on-site units possible based on the density allowed by the county.

County Councilman John Cartier said although the contract is a first for the county, a growing number of governments, including Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax, Va., are passing laws that require developers to mix more affordable housing into their plans for affluent neighborhoods.

The idea is termed "inclusionary housing."

"I've been very concerned about the fact that all the housing developments that go to record plan with us are extreme[ly] expensive products," said Cartier, a Democrat whose district includes Brookview. "There needs to be housing for all levels of wages in this county."

The contract will be signed the same day County Council members are expected to pass an ordinance to rezone the property from neighborhood conservation to a commercial neighborhood, allowing a higher density and mix of residential and retail units on the site.

"They are basically doubling the density and rebuilding what has been one of the most troubling apartment complexes in the county," Coons said. "The big-picture challenge that we face is that there is very little public money available to rehabilitate old and dilapidated apartments. The only way you're going to get it done is through private investment."

'A tremendous change'

The county expects to earn $7 million in real estate transfer taxes and fees from the project.

"We think it's a very strong market, a dynamic product and a tremendous change for Claymont," Ruggio said. "I can't say enough about the support the county has been giving us."

If final plans are approved, construction will begin in the spring and the first buyers will move in by the end of 2007, Ruggio said. He's hoping for a winter demolition of the 633-unit complex.

Some of the apartments are so rundown that Cartier described them as places he wouldn't let his dog live in.

About 150 units remain occupied as the developers continue to help residents relocate. Ruggio said the business partners are giving Brookview tenants a month's rent and their security deposits, along with shuttles to ferry them to and from prospective apartments.

Relocation help

State Rep. Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, sponsored a one-time appropriation of $100,000 to help relocate residents. About $20,000 to $30,000 of the money, which is being administered by the Delaware State Housing Authority, will be used to hire a case manager to handle the work.

The Brookview Tenants Council, made up of residents of the complex, laud leaders for the help but are displeased with the money spent on a case manager.

"It's taking money out of the pockets of the Brookview residents," said the group's chairwoman, Mary-Anne Mason, who is moving July 4 to William Penn Village near New Castle.

She said the suffering of the working poor in Brookview has been "enormous and intensive" as families and singles have struggled to find other places to live in a county with little affordable housing.

"We think it's wonderful that they want to secure the future of working people" Mason said. "Unfortunately, they have forgotten the present. All of the promises that these people made about all these alternatives -- nothing has panned out."

She doesn't blame the developers. She blames county laws, which don't require inclusionary housing.

Cartier and Coons agree with her, saying they are working to change that.

"This fall, you can expect council and the executive to proffer a whole array of ordinances toward that," Cartier said.

Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or abasiouny@delawareonline.com.

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