Five questions with Hockessin DRAC Chairwoman Cindy Gamble.

Q You've served on the Hockessin Design Review Development Committee since shortly after its inception in 2008. How would you compare the function of the DRAC today as compared to five years ago?

A I have served on the Hockessin Village Design Review Advisory Committee (DRAC) since 2008, but the organization was in operation before I joined. The function of the DRAC has remained constant since its beginning—to fill the goals of the Hockessin Village Community Redevelopment Plan, a document that sets the tone and vision for the future development of Hockessin. The plan aims for "a course of action that will lead, through the years, toward a desirable physical, social, and economic environment for existing and future generations."

Q The DRAC is a quasi-governmental body in that you have limited regulatory jurisdiction over aesthetics and signage in the Hockessin Village. How does the DRAC seek buy-in from local merchants and residents so the process of having a sign approved doesn't feel like a bureaucratic hurdle for small business owners?

A The Hockessin Village DRAC is a community service. The DRAC was formed because the New Castle County administration realized that Hockessin would greatly benefit from a more specific level of planning than is possible by the current Unified Development Code (UDC). County Executive Tom Gordon established the community planning program so that the DRACs would be able to address planning issues specific to Hockessin – issues that may not be appropriate on a county-wide level, but are critical to the continuing success of Hockessin.

When a business or property owner comes to the DRAC for signage approval or any of the other modifications we can recommend, they sit down with a small group of people who are familiar with their business, their site and the local community. The DRAC offers a level of personal service that the Department of Land Use, due to its large scale, can't offer. A recommendation by the DRAC helps to paves the way for approval by the Department of Land Use, and may eliminate the expense of involving the Board of Adjustment.

Q Why are design standards and signage guidelines so important for a community like Hockessin?

A People want to live in a place that looks attractive, prosperous, and makes them proud to call it home. Business owners, too, want to be in an attractive environment as it will attract customers and bring them business and economic success.

When there's too much going on in a streetscape, especially when traffic is moving fast, signs aren't noticed or read because the vehicle passes the sign too fast. The DRAC has been watching signs go up and down in Hockessin for many years. Some signs are too small, some have too much text, some have poor color contrast, and some are really effective. The DRAC studies local signs continuously, constantly evaluating sign design for best practices, and we evaluate all proposed signage according to our previous experience and the guidelines. We make recommendations for improvement because we are a community service and our goal is to enhance the physical and economic environment of Hockessin.

Q In May, you were appealing to the Hockessin business community for some volunteers to fill out the DRAC. How has that recruitment effort gone and why is it so vital to have business interests represented on the board to complement the views of residents?

A The Hockessin Village DRAC would greatly benefit from having members of the business community joining the committee. Business and property owners bring a different viewpoint of Hockessin and the needs of the commercial partners in the area. They are aware of the pressures facing small businesses in this tough economy. A variety of perspectives will make the DRAC stronger and more responsive to the challenges of the future.

Other priorities filled my summer, so my appeal for new members that began in May has been delayed until now. I encourage anyone who might be interested in learning more about land use planning, our local community, or signage design to come to one of our meetings. The DRAC meets on the third Monday of each month at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of Hockessin Memorial Hall. Membership in the DRAC is a small investment of time with great rewards, only [90 minutes] each month for a meeting, and several emails during the month. Most of the reconnaissance can be done as you travel on your daily schedule.

Q The DRAC is one of several civic groups, along with the Hockessin Planning Partnership and the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association, with a stake in the future of the Village? What do you see as Hockessin's future in a decade?

A As our local population grows older, I think residents will want to stay close to home for shopping and services. The last decade's improvements to the Village of Hockessin form an infrastructure base where a small, walkable community can develop. I see potential for an improved shopping district where residents come to walk and enjoy a local main street, allowing them to stay in their homes and be independent longer. I hope there will be added attractions for kids once a bicycle path network is developed. Fostering a sense of independence is important for kids, and moving through their community on safe bike paths is a wonderful way to achieve that goal.