January  26,  2011

Library called important for
Claymont redevelopment

Failure to build the planned Claymont branch library in Darley Green would be a blow to "the most ambitious redevelopment project New Castle County has seen in its history," according to Donald Robitzer, senior vice president of Commonwealth Group, the firm that is constructing the large residential and commercial project.

"We still need the support of Council and the county [government] to make this a town center," he told County Council's community services committee after Keelin Fry, treasurer of the Friends of the Claymont Library, made a strong pitch for putting the facility on the site of the long-closed Children's Home on Green Street.

Brett Saddler, executive director of Claymont Renaissance Development Corp., backed up Robitzer by saying that the library would be "more than just a building" but a key component of the planned new community which, in turn, is "something that is going to take Claymont forward."

While not expressing a preference for a site, Councilman John Cartier called for quickly resolving the issue. Getting construction underway not only would provide a future amenity but would, in the short term, provide needed jobs in the community, he said.

Ed Milowicki, acting chief financial officer, told the meeting on Jan. 25 that county government has federal money in hand through the 'recovery zone' stimulus program to finance its share of the cost of constructing the library. He did not give a specific figure, but said it could cover both construction and, if necessary, acquiring a site. On the other hand, the money has to be spent within the next two years or be forfeit, he said.

State government is committed to provide part of the capital cost and the Friends organization would raise some. Fry said it has commitments for grants  from Longwood and Welfare Foundations.

Commonwealth has offered to donate sufficient land in the commercial core of Darley Green along an extension of Manor Avenue west of Philadelphia Pike for a 17,000-square-foot library, which is the size a consultant's 'needs assessment' said is needed. The Green Street site, on the other hand, would have to be purchased from the Catholic diocese. A price apparently has yet to be negotiated.

Fry maintained that the Green Street site would be preferable because the 13-acre property would enable the library to be situated in a park-like setting.

Also at issue would be patron parking. Robitzer talked of providing a parking garage under the library. He explained it would not be subterranean but part of an elevated structure.

He also indicated that construction of Darley Green's commercial section is likely to get started in the relatively near future. "The market is beginning to open up," he said. Meanwhile, the project has bucked somewhat the real estate slump. There have been 54 townhouse units on the Darley Road side of the project sold during the past 15 months, he said. People are now living in that section of the project.

The site controversy broke out several months ago when, as Delaforum then reported, the Department of Community Services backed away from accepting the Commonwealth offer. Anne Farley, who has just been replaced as general manager of the department, has appeared since then to be supporting the Green Street site.

Attending her last Council committee meeting, she did not state a preference, but referred to having to decide between two apparently acceptable proposals as "a good [kind of] problem to have."

Speaking on behalf of County Executive Paul Clark's office, Nicole Majeski told the committee that the administration "has been evaluating both sites," but did not indicate when a decision might be forthcoming.

Farley said that, although the decision lies with the executive branch, County Council will have a say to the extent that it must approve purchasing property or accepting a donation of a property. That action, however, would, by definition, take place after the decision has been made.

Delaforum could not determine what, if any, role the library issue played in Farley's being replaced. Clark announced it as her "retirement" and said she had "agreed to help us out" in the future. She responded to a Delaforum question before the committee meeting by saying that she "didn't know I was ready to retire." Cartier, however, pointed out that naming key operating officials is a normal prerogative of a new administration. Department general managers serve 'at the pleasure of' the county executive.

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Read previous Delaforum article: County opts to put library on Children's Home site

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