Construction could begin as early as this summer on the first homes in a major, mixed-use development long-planned along the southern bank of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, according to the project’s developers.
The Town of Whitehall is proposed to eventually include seven neighborhoods made up of 3,800 homes on 1,214 acres off of both Lorewood Grove Road and Ratledge Road.
“That’s our 25-year vision for the total project,” said Brian DiSabatino, a co-founder of the Town of Whitehall and president of the Wilmington-based EDiS Company, which will serve as one of the development managers for the $1 billion project. “Right now, we’re still working through the New Castle County approval process and our focus is on getting the first phase underway this summer.”
That first phase, a neighborhood named Mapleton, is slated to include nearly 500 homes, as well as 64,000 square feet of civic, commercial and retail space, on 145 acres.
“Our vision is to create a development that’s dramatically different from anything that’s been done in Delaware for the past 100 years,” DiSabatino said. “We want to return to that style of colonial development that created the best parts of Delaware, and that’s a truly walkable community that includes a mix of housing types interwoven with civic spaces, stores, a library, a school and other uses all located with a quarter-mile of your front door.”
That will be accomplished, in part, with residential building lots smaller than a half-acre with single-family homes interspersed with townhouses, cottages, apartments and stores.
“Our hope is to have a 900-square-foot home right next to a 5,500-square-foot home to give the neighborhood that uniquely American sense of place,” DiSabatino said.
Whitehall Ventures is still awaiting final building approvals from New Castle County after submitting its entire build-out plans in 2011.
In the meantime, a separate group headed by Innovative Schools of Wilmington is seeking approval from the Delaware Board of Education to open a charter elementary school in Whitehall by 2016.
The developers also are in talks to have a county library built in the Mapleton neighborhood.
“From a design and architectural perspective, we are excited about the Whitehall project,” county spokesman Antonio Prado said. “The plans have been received and are going through the land use process like any other land use proposal. With that said, we are open to the idea of locating a satellite library at Whitehall provided that such a venture would be beneficial to both the county and the future residents of Whitehall.”
While the current proposal for the Whitehall development is relatively new, potential uses for the land, currently owned by the Wilmington-based Welfare Foundation, have been bandied about since at least the 1980s.
Page 2 of 2 - In the 1990s, a large-scale commercial development project proposed on the land received considerable public scrutiny and was eventually abandoned.
“We got involved in the project around 2000 and made two major suggestions,” DiSabatino said. “The first was that the project as proposed had failed to take into account the on-the-ground reality of the market and the second was that instead of telling the community what they should have, we needed to be asking the community what they wanted.”
A decade ago, the developers won approvals for the nearby Scott Run Business Park, a 200-acre employment center southeast of Jamison Corner and Hyetts Corner roads that was designed to accommodate the construction of multiple office and manufacturing sites.
That project stalled after the economy turned sour around 2008, and DelDOT has since filed condemnation lawsuits seeking 100 acres for the $400 million realignment of U.S. Route 301.
DiSabatino said Whitehall Ventures is hopeful the business park project will be rejuvenated if the new highway is built.
More recently, the developers have launched a major marketing and community outreach program through Facebook, Twitter and its website, whitehallde.com, in the hopes of winning community support for the Town of Whitehall project.
Some neighbors of the project, like community activist and Middletown-area resident Andye Daley, remained unconvinced of its benefits, however.
“Between this project and other developments underway in the area, we’re talking about more than 6,000 homes in less than a five miles radius,” she said. “At the same time, there are already numerous developments in the Middletown area that less than 30 percent built out. Without the infrastructure, like new roads, new schools or even a grocery store in area of this project, it seems like irresponsible growth to me. It’s just sprawl.”