New Castle County continues to investigate solutions for two neighborhoods off Route 9 that are surrounded by heavy industry.
A County-commissioned survey last year found roughly half of residents in Eden Park Gardens and Hamilton Park would be likely to move away if given fair value for their homes or financial assistance.
The survey was recommended in the Wilmington Area Planning Council’s 2017 Rt. 9 Corridor Master Plan. It proposes rezoning the neighborhoods, if residents there want to be bought out.
Now University of Delaware sociologist Victor Perez is analyzing data from a second survey— of property owners in the two neighborhoods.
“So instead of saying, ‘how likely are you to move out,’ it’s ‘how likely are you to sell your property?’” he said. “And again it’s the similar context where it’s for a fair value of a similar property comparable to a low-crime area.”
The survey is anonymous, and was mailed to target participants— which include owners of lots, houses, businesses and churches. It also asks about property owners’ perceptions of environmental conditions in the two neighborhoods.
Perez says there is little known about what property owners think of the idea of rezoning. “In many ways [the survey is] very basic, very exploratory,” he said. “There’s this plan that suggests a rezoning to separate residential and industrial, and given that suggestion, how likely would you be to sell the property, etc.”
The Route 9 Corridor Master Plan says, given the presence of industry and “contaminated brownfields" around Terminal Ave., the need for expansion of the Port of Wilmington, and residents’ desire for more jobs, “strong consideration should be given to buying out and fully relocating residents from the Eden Park neighborhood.” It recommends rezoning the land for light industrial use or open space.
The plan adds that Hamilton Park, which is south of Eden Park and also surrounded by industry, should be rezoned as well, allowing commercial, office, institutional, or open space and prohibiting further residential and industrial uses.
The plan says relocation should only take place after “careful consultation with every property owner and resident in each community and their approval,” beginning with a sociological relocation survey like Perez's.
The two neighborhoods’ Civic Association president Louis McDuffy has long advocated for relocation, and is currently focused on finding funding for it. He says he wants the county to oversee a special account in which the community can raise money for a buyout.
“Will [the County] accept the money that we raise right now for the whole community to move?" he asked. "They’ve got to answer us."
New Castle County spokesman Jason Miller said in an email that county officials were not aware of such a request.
He said the County will work to ensure that the results of this latest survey are shared with neighborhood residents before they are released publicly.
County officials have painted relocation as one among many possible solutions to the issues in Eden and Hamilton Park. Jim Smith with the County Land Use department told Delaware Public Media last fall that because a significant portion of residents in the two neighborhoods did not participate in Perez’s first survey, the County needs to gather more information.
Perez says once his research is finished, there needs to be “very careful, very patient thought” about how to deal with the issues in Eden and Hamilton Park.
“There are people who voice very real issues [in the first survey] with environmental experiences, environmental concerns,” he said. “And there are people that are adamantly against leaving … It’s much more complex, I think, than some of the narratives that you’ll hear.”
Perez says while some in the communities feel a sense of urgency about leaving, "history of a community, and culture, and shared heritage, and ownership, and identity, and right to stay— all of these things come up.”
“I think that rushing to do anything is a mistake,” he said.
Perez hopes to present preliminary results of the property owner survey to the community in last August or September.