Residents of several roads along the Route 9 corridor near the Port of Wilmington have complained of truck traffic they say degrades their quality of life.
One such street may get the opportunity to move.
Winnie Richards stands in the driveway of a neighbor on Pyles Lane in New Castle and watches trucks drive past. “Imagine that at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning,” she says, as one rumbles past.
Most of the trucks turn into Port to Port, an international shipping company with a location right across the street from the row of houses. Behind Port to Port is the Delaware River Industrial Park, and less than a mile away is the Port of Wilmington.
Richards says members of her family have lived on Pyles Lane for more than a hundred years. “That was my grandma’s house,” she said. “This was my aunt Mildred’s house, this was Mr. Giles’, that was the Zions’ house, the house that sits back was my aunt’s...”
But Richards says over the decades, the area has changed. In the last few years, truck traffic on her street has made it hard to live there.
“You have trucks come up and down this road whenever they feel like it,” she said. “If there’s a backup over on Terminal Ave. because of the red light, they come this way— it’s a shortcut. The people who get off work back here at 4:30 in the afternoon speed 45 miles an hour. I have to pick the times I walk my dog. I fear for my life, I really do. And the life of my dog.”
Richards’ neighbor, Charlie Gonzalez, agrees. “There is a problem with the trucks because when they do drive past the homes, these houses, they’re so close to the road that they start to shake,” he said. “Not really bad like an earthquake or anything like that but still it's annoying that you have to rearrange your little picture frames and your figurines that you have on your tables.
Now Winnie Richards, Charlie Gonzalez and their neighbors may get the chance to sell their houses to the state and move away.
This year’s bond bill signed by Gov. John Carney last month quietly authorizes — and encourages — DelDOT to purchase the ten residential parcels along Pyles Lane closest to Pigeon Point Rd. at fair market price.
DelDOT spokesman C.R. McLeod said in an email the Department will go through its “normal process” to acquire land as laid out in state code.
He said the Department does not yet know how much a buyout of the parcels would cost, but is required to offer fair market value for them — and will not force residents to sell. DelDOT would not need all owners to agree to sell, but could purchase some of the parcels even if other residents chose to remain.
“We have asked the local businesses not to utilize these roads,” McLeod wrote in an email. “We also have funded [traffic] enforcement efforts in the past but they cannot be present 24/7. The Department is being directed by the language set forth in the bond bill to purchase the stated parcels at fair market value and that is what we will do.”
According to county tax records, most of the houses were built in the 1920s and sit on roughly a quarter of an acre each. The online real estate company Zillow prices most of the properties between sixty and one hundred thousand dollars.
State Rep. Frank Cooke says he has received complaints about the trucking from his constituents on Pyles Lane. He is meeting with DelDOT and other elected officials to plan how the potential buyouts would work.
He chalks the conflict on Pyles Lane up to industrial-zoned land much too close to residential.
“That zoning got in, not thinking of the people around it … It’s a huge mistake made by government of letting that be next to housing, that type of economic development,” he said. “And how do we make up for that mistake? That boggles me every night.”
Cooke sees it as infeasible to kick out the industry or down-zone the industrial land, noting the jobs involved and the planned expansion at the Port of Wilmington by the company now operating it, Gulftainer.
In a statement, Gulftainer USA Wilmington CEO Eric Casey said, “We are aware of the new Bond Bill and are very pleased that the state has the vision and initiative to introduce legislation that proactively seeks positive and responsible ways to help people maximize their quality of life.”
Port to Port did not respond to several requests for comment.
County Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick sees industrial operations as possibly playing a role in buying out adjacent residents. “So that it wouldn’t always be the government that has to buy it, but we could have some sort of private-public partnership going.”
And she says if the residents of Pyles Lane sell their properties, the county should step in to correct a small piece of the zoning problem in the area by keeping the Pyles Lane parcels open space.
“If that happens, then the county needs to come in and proactively rezone that and guarantee that there is a buffer between Pyles Lane and what would be the next street in Hamilton Park behind the Pyles Lane people — to guarantee that this won’t happen again,” she said.
The Route 9 Corridor Master Plan completed by the Wilmington Area Planning Council two years ago echoes these officials' concerns.
“Illogical zoning and development patterns along the Route 9 Corridor are the underlying source of several environmental and public health problems here – from poor air quality created by emissions and dust to illegal heavy truck traffic traveling along neighborhood streets, such as Pyles Lane,” it reads.
The plan prompted New Castle County to hire a University of Delaware researcher to survey residents of Eden Park and Hamilton Park, including Pyles Lane, on their perceptions of the local environment and their desire to relocate. Roughly half of residents in the neighborhoods indicated they would be likely to move away if given fair value for their homes or financial assistance.
Pastor Louis McDuffy, president of the Eden-Hamilton Park Civic Association, has advocated for relocation for years. He sees DelDOT’s authorization to purchase the parcels on Pyles Lane as good news for his efforts to secure buyouts for the larger community.
“Not only does it help,” he said. “It clears the way for the state to become involved in other things. Not only that, it gets out some more people.”
But McDuffy says “fair market value” would not be the appropriate compensation. In discussions with the county about the concept of relocation, he says he has advocated for funding likely above market value that would allow residents to move to equivalent homes in a similarly low-crime area but without the environmental burdens.
“We would need to have a value sufficient to replace what we already have … low violence, zero violence, opportunity for the children,” he said. “That can’t be accomplished with those terms.”
For Charlie Gonzalez, the decision to sell would be a hard one. According to tax parcel records, he bought his home more than 30 years ago for $22,000. He says he has invested around $400,000 into the property since then through renovations and improvements.
He says he loved his once-quiet street and the view of the Christina River from the end of it. And he is retired.
“I wasn't planning on moving out of here … until all this came along, so now they kinda put me between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “So I have to make a decision. And if the price is right then I will make that decision.”
“I’m afraid to go to another neighborhood,” he added. “I don’t know how I’m gonna be treated there … It’s terrifying to just have to just uproot to go somewhere else and then your neighbors might not be like these neighbors are. We’re like a family back here.”
Winnie Richards says when local elected officials raised the idea of a buyout at a community meeting last year, she did not want to sell her house. But in the months since, her thoughts have begun to change.
“This is a thoroughfare between New Castle Ave. and Pigeon Point Rd. — and it’s always going to be that way,” she said. “So I’ll give up my house that I love so much, and my brand new garage and my brand new $6,850 driveway and my brand new shed. But they’re going to have to pay for it.”
Whether — and how much — the state might pay for the houses on Pyles lane remains to be seen.