The owners of Dempsey's Service Center (formerly Whiteman's Garage) on Paper Mill Road are looking to sell the property and relocate – that much everyone agrees on.
The next step for the surrounding homeowners? That's a more contentious issue.
Since 1928, an automotive repair business has operated there at the corner of Paper Mill and Corner Ketch roads – long before anyone ever conceived of a zoning map.
In 1998, when New Castle County did just that and systematically reviewed the zoning status of each and every property in the county, Whiteman's Garage was rezoned as commercial – the only such designation in the immediate area, which today is characterized by high-end subdivisions, a school, a church and a county park.
For 15 years, the garage operated in concert with the community, but now that rezoning has some neighbors worried. The Dempsey family is in negotiations to sell the property to CVS, which wants to build a new drug store on the property.
At a Greater Hockessin Area Development Association meeting Monday night – attended by nearly 200 people – opponents of the drug store said it will bring increased traffic to the area, would be an eyesore, and could decrease property values. They also point to a deed restriction on the property, approved at the time of the 1998 rezoning, which requires the site to remain an automotive repair center.
But a newly formed focus group of the fledgling Greater White Clay Area Civic League, seems to be taking a different approach.
While they've yet to endorse a specific path forward, they see redevelopment of the parcel as inevitable, and have met with CVS to ask for concessions, should they purchase the property and pursue the drug store plan. For example, CVS has dropped plans to construct a second, 6,000-square-foot medical arts building on the site and has agreed to lighting, landscaping and architectural design standards.
"The Dempseys will be selling regardless of CVS," said Nate Schwartz, who is leading the GWCACL focus group.
If the deed restrictions remained, and the new owner of the site was another automotive center, there's no guarantee it would be a good neighbor like Whiteman's has been for decades, Schwartz said.
A majority of New Castle County Council would have to vote to overturn the deed restrictions if the CVS plan were to ultimately be approved. That's a long way off, however, as no sale has been made and no plan has been filed.
Still, that didn't stop the administration from taking a hard-line stance against the CVS proposal.
"These deed restrictions are well-authored and [County Executive Tom Gordon] plans to enforce them," said Bill Shahan, of the county's Office of Community Governing. "That's where the executive branch of the county government stands – with the people that oppose this."
Page 2 of 2 - Rep. Joe Miro (R-Firefox), whose district includes Whiteman's, said he also is opposed to the CVS plan, although he conceded it's strictly a county issue. He said he helped author the deed restrictions as a county council member in 1998 and believes they're strong and should remain in place.
Ultimately, Schwartz said the GWCACL focus group would vote and make a recommendation as to whether to support the CVS plan with concessions or oppose it, but it may not even matter.
As a civic organization, the focus group's vote would have no legal standing. CVS could complete the sale and file a plan with the county with or without community backing. Typically, however, plans have a better chance of getting through the county approval process when there is the appearance of cooperation between the developer and neighbors.
Attorney Lisa Goodman, who is representing CVS, declined to comment on the issue because she'd yet to confer with her client about Monday's meeting.