City council will vote Monday on a plan to build 18 single-family houses on a vacant wooded lot on Paper Mill Road.
The project is slated for a 13.9-acre parcel on the west side of Paper Mill Road, across from the Wyncliff and Pine Meadow neighborhoods. The land backs up to White Clay Creek and state parkland.
Under the plan, the 18 houses would be built on the front portion of the property, and the rear 6.2 acres of land would be donated to the state to become part of White Clay Creek State Park.
The land is owned by descendants of the Handloffs, the prominent family that owned Newark Department Store and built Newark Shopping Center. In the 1950s, the family built two homes on a small portion of the property, but has since sold them. Those houses would not be affected by the proposal, and the homeowners also intend to seek annexation in order to connect to the city’s water and sewer systems.
“Having grown up on this property, it concerns me to see it remain vacant when I know there are others who could enjoy it,” said Rita Simon, one of the Handloff descendants who own the land. “I envision a mini community of high-quality, small homes close to University of Delaware where people can have access to continuing education hopefully with the benefit of services that the city of Newark can provide.”
In September 2018, the planning commission voted 5-1 to recommend council approve the plan, despite concerns from some neighbors about the loss of the trees and the impact on traffic.
The project is still facing opposition from conservationists.
The Coalition for Natural Stream Valleys is calling on city council to oppose the annexation.
“White Clay Creek and its valley is a great resource for Newark and its people. Further development along it will only degrade water quality and negatively impact the ecology of the stream,” group president Desmond Kahn said.
The group is concerned about the more than 200 trees that would be cut down for the project, and Kahn said that if the property is not annexed, New Castle County’s development code would likely prohibit this development due to the large-scale destruction of forest trees.
“If the annexation is prevented, the trust may still find a buyer for this land as a natural area,” Kahn said. “For instance, the State of Delaware has a dedicated open lands purchasing program, and places high value on land that adjoins state parkland.”
Don Sharpe, one of several Newarkers who were instrumental in the creation of White Clay Creek State Park decades ago, sees the preservation of the Paper Mill Road parcel as a continuation of that effort.
“I think it would be a nice addition,” Sharpe said.
Though the Handloff family has already agreed to donate part of the land to White Clay Creek State Park, Sharpe and others would like to see all of the land preserved.
“Some nine acres is vacant woodland and is among the highest and best of the Delaware Piedmont Forest, and should rightfully be part of the commons, part of the public trust,” said Jan Owens, a Newark resident who is writing a book about the creation of White Clay Creek State Park.
She added that forests provide a corridor for animals and birds and suggested the Paper Mill Road property could become a butterfly sanctuary.
Owens noted that White Clay Creek State Park is the result of private land owners donating or selling large and small tracts of land to be preserved for the public good.
“A few examples are the DuPont family, the DuPont Company and the University of Delaware. The Robinson family swapped WCCSP nature center property for uphill land. The Kranz farm is an ongoing family legacy that supports preservation and open space,” she said. “To preserve natural areas is a tradition of many pillars of the community. The Handloff family would join this august company of benefactors.”
Sharpe said his attempts to reach the Handloff family have been unsuccessful and he decided to go public with his request in hopes of drawing more public support.
“This is just a bit of a gamble,” he said. “Maybe we can get their attention.”
Neither city officials nor a lawyer for the Handloffs would comment on the proposal.