A growing network of community leaders and conservation groups is cobbling together a plan to purchase the former Delaware National/Hercules golf course from developer Greg Pettinaro and create a new public park, TSD has learned.
The effort is focused on raising private and public funds to buy out the developer, who has plans for a 200+ home development on the long-dormant site on the edge of Greenville off Lancaster Pike.
Pettinaro confirmed to TSD he is in discussions with members of the group, Friends of Wooddale Preserve, saying he is “happy to work with them in any capacity that we can to make this happen.”
Pettinaro has owned the 200-acre parcel for ten years, a beautiful tract of rolling hills, old growth trees and wetlands surrounding the Red Clay Creek that once was home to an 18-hole golf course. The nearby neighborhood of Greenville Overlook was built a decade ago on the 9-hole course that was part of the original Hercules Country Club.
The land is slated to host a total of 236 houses – a combination of estate and smaller single-family homes and townhouses – once New Castle County land use and traffic approvals are obtained. Pettinaro says those milestones should come in early spring 2020, but the developer of the Barley Mill Plaza complex that will include a new Wegman’s grocery store a mile down the road says he is hopeful for a win-win outcome that serves the interests of “my partners, neighbors and county best.”
A deal could include acquisition of some or all of the land planned for development, and would likely involve Friends of Wooddale Preserve raising millions of dollars from foundations, private sources and public grants. Sources with the group say $70,000 has already been pledged by local neighbors before a formal fundraising campaign has been launched.
New Castle County Council member Dee Durham represents much of the surrounding area around the property and she has been involved in conversations with Pettinaro, civic associations and environmental and conservancy groups, along with county and state officials. She said the group has been working quietly to build “a wide range of partnerships and stakeholder support,” with the shared goal of “permanently protecting and preserving the open space.”
Organizations that have formally endorsed the effort include the Delaware Nature Society, the Wilmington and Western Railroad, the Sierra Club, the Brandywine-Red Clay Alliance and the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine 100.
Should the effort succeed, outcomes could range from part of the property being developed to the entire parcel becoming a public park. The community group is also in discussions with the chemical company Ashland, which owns open space abutting the property along Lancaster Pike. It is possible this land could become part of the contiguous green space envisioned by Friends of Wooddale Preserve.
Traffic issues in the area along Lancaster Pike/Rte. 48 have been a major concern for area residents, with regular rush-hour backups bedeviling commuters on the prime thoroughfare between Wilmington and Hockessin and US Rte. 1. In 2016, excessive truck traffic led to a community uprising and the ouster of the most powerful member of the Delaware state senate.
Durham says that in addition to traffic concerns and the need for more “public park amenities for walking, jogging, and biking in a natural setting,” protection of the water quality drawn from the Red Clay Creek is a major consideration for the preservation efforts.
“Suez [water company] draws one-third of its water for 100,000 New Castle County residents downstream from this site,” said Durham. “Protecting this natural buffer zone along the creek and reducing impervious cover of the planned development is absolutely imperative. It is important to protect stream corridors and wildlife habitat – as New Castle County has lost so much of its contiguous natural lands for wildlife, and so much of the habitat has been fragmented beyond use for wildlife and even humans.”
Lifetime area resident and businessman Eric Holloway believes that ensuring ample amounts of the Brandywine Valley’s verdant rolling hills are devoted to recreational open space is an essential factor in the future economic success of the Wilmington region.
Holloway’s two children, both college graduates living in San Francisco, would like to settle back east but he says Wilmington isn’t necessarily on their shortlist due to their impressions about “suburban sprawl” and limited outdoor recreational amenities like hiking.
So the Westover Hills civic association president has gotten behind the push to make the former golf course a park.
“I see Delaware continuing to lack a “draw,” so to speak, to motivate people to move here,” said Holloway. “I find the millennials are bypassing us for the bigger metropolitan areas like Philly or New York where there is more to do. Delaware in their minds doesn’t have much to recommend it. I think we need to change that perception and adding nature preserves that offer activities such as hiking, running or fishing or birding or horseback riding within close proximity adds to the quality of life and is one of the key building blocks to making Delaware more appealing for others to move here.”
Durham and Holloway noted that an accessible parkland would be a boon for surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. They believe preserving the land as open space would increase property values and offer the potential for walking and biking trails that could connect the park with communities like Brookmeade, Stonewold and Sedgely Farms as well as the well-received mixed-use development Pettinaro is building at Barley Mill.
Businesses such as CSC Corporation and others in buildings along Centreville Road with growing employee bases would benefit from a several hundred-acre park on their doorstep, according to park supporters.
TSD will continue to follow developments as they unfold.