Claymont residents see plans for reimagined community

WILMAPCO has held three community meetings to assure Claymont residents have opportunities to make suggestions for improvements to the study area above.
WILMAPCO has held three community meetings to assure Claymont residents have opportunities to make suggestions for improvements to the area above. // Photo courtesy of WILMAPCO

by Kathy Canavan

More than 60 residents met in a prime architectural example of old Claymont on Oct. 25 to see plans for the new Claymont, including a new $40 million train station.

Wearing hoodies, jeans, Dockers and golf shirts, residents streamed into The Patio at Archmere, an ornate neo-Renaissance building constructed for the late financier John J. Raskob 100 years ago by the same firm that designed the greenhouse at Longwood Gardens.

Speakers from the Wilmington Area Planning Council set up their lectern on one side of the columned atrium while residents kibitzed under the stained glass skylight, near a large marble fountain carved with depictions of the Raskob children at play.

Brett Saddler, executive director of Claymont Renaissance Development Corp., told residents the effort to reimagine Claymont’s business district came after it became evident that “Tri-State Mall was not going to get any better.” Eventually, that led to the framework for a do-over of the 41-acre mall property, the 425-acre former Claymont Steel plant, the riverfront and surrounding areas crisscrossed by Philadelphia Pike and Naamans Road.

WILMAPCO and other county and state agencies began sharing plans with residents last November. As Saddler put it, “We didn’t want the tail wagging the dog. From the beginning, we wanted the community involved with the process.”

The idea was to mix retail, residential, commercial and industrial uses connected by sidewalks, bike paths, trains and other public transit. Currently, the area includes 429 acres of industrial uses, 262 acres of open space, 203 acres of residential property and 108 acres of commercial uses.

“What you’re seeing on the boards tonight are possibilities. They are concepts,” Saddler said, adding that planners must work with property owners.

Heather Dunigan, principal planner for WILMAPCO, said the plans are a framework for the new community but the final look will be dictated by what the market will support. The only item that is a given is the train station, which will be started in 2018.

The plans, which call for walkable village, include green spaces near the Delaware River, a marina, a walkable shopping area on the Tri-State Mall site with offices and institutional uses such as a health-care facility, and a train station on the old Claymont Steel tract with fairly dense office and retail development around it. The train station would include sidewalks or bike paths and stackable parking and surface parking. It could include housing if the tract can be safely remediated to allow residential development, planners said.

The plans include a buffer around Robinson House, a circa-1723 guest house visited by President George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette.

Dunigan said SEPTA officials said it will not be possible to accommodate residents’ request to have a spur that would take riders directly from Claymont Station to Philadelphia International Airport. A resident had suggested the spur at a previous meeting as a method of bringing business and visitors to Claymont

Plans for the district are posted at www.wilmapco.org/ncamp/.

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