City of Seaford urged to put design regulations in place
By Lynn R. Parks
Seaford's new Conceptual Vision Plan for its downtown, presented at city hall last week, came with some words of advice.
With all of the proposed development for the downtown area, "we are urging you to put some design regulations in place," Randy Wilson with Community Design Solutions, based in Columbia, S.C., said at a public meeting this past Thursday evening. "You need to codify what makes downtown Seaford special and make sure that development occurs in a manner that's respectful of your town."
Wilson was referring to proposals to remake Seaford's downtown with construction of a hotel, retail shopping strips, a professional building and another building called the Galleria, with residential and office space as well as room for restaurants and shops. Developers David Perlmutter, Faith Diamond and Warren Diamond are already building a high-end apartment complex at the foot of North Street, and have purchased several vacant buildings in downtown.
In October, the city council gave preliminary approval to construction of the commercial development, called the Towne Center at Riverwalk.
Showing pictures of existing buildings, Wilson said that the predominant building materials in Seaford's downtown are brick and wood. The typical building is two stories tall, he added. "There is a distinct architectural style and you want to make sure that you maintain it," he said.
Tom McGilloway, a principal with the Baltimore-based landscape architecture and urban planning firm Mahan Rykiel, was also part of the team that drew up the conceptual plan. He said that he is concerned that the Towne Center will cut off views of the Nanticoke River.
"It looks like it will be pinching the vista of the river," he said. He suggested that the new buildings be arranged to open up views toward the water.
He also said that consideration should be given to putting parking lots in courtyards, surrounded by clusters of buildings, rather than along the streets. Having a row of buildings right along the sidewalks will create lines of sight toward the Nanticoke, he said.
Seaford commissioned the conceptual plan with the help of a USDA grant. Total cost of the plan is $28,250, $23,000 of which will be paid by the Delaware Economic Development Office with the USDA grant. The city will pay the balance of $5,250. The city also committed to spend at least $20,000 to implement the plan.
Lead consultant in writing the plan was Ben Muldrow, a partner with Arnette Muldrow & Associates, a planning and economic development consulting firm based in Greenville, S.C. Last year, Muldrow was part of the process that came up with a new brand for downtown, including a new town motto, "Seaford, the perfect place to start."
The three men started the process of coming up with a plan this past Tuesday with a public meeting in city hall.
They asked participants what they like about downtown, what they don't like and what they would like to see there.
Muldrow started Thursday night's presentation with an analysis of Seaford's economic situation. Based on the amount of money flowing out of the community, he said that the city could support a specialty foods store, up to eight clothing boutiques, a sporting goods/hobby store and a stationary shop.
The downtown could also benefit from a pub-style restaurant, he said. That in spite of the fact that already, people from surrounding areas are coming to Seaford for "fine dining," or eating out at non-fast foods joints. "Does that mean that they can't spend more money eating out? No," he said. "But it does mean that any new restaurants have to be good, with good food, good service and a good atmosphere."
Wilson had several suggestions for improving downtown in the short term: Replace already existing ornamental trees as they decline with larger, shade trees. Add color to downtown streets, with painted walls, flags, umbrellas and signs. Create a guide highlighting buildings of note. And put in pop-up parklets – small, temporary green spaces set up in a couple of parking spaces – and outdoor dining areas to get people downtown. Even just a small amount of activity breeds more activity, he said.
In the long term, the men suggested that the city improve access to Gateway Park, which they called "a tremendous opportunity surrounded by lanes of fast-moving traffic."
"It is not pedestrian-friendly at all," Wilson said. "If you have something that only looks nice, you're not getting the full value of it."
The small park, at the intersection of High, Market and Front streets, would benefit from more crosswalks, more trees, and more seating, they said. Traffic zipping by on the city streets could be slowed down with the addition of on-street parking, which narrow the travel lanes, and pop-up parklets at the corners. The parking and parklets would also provide a buffer between the park and the traffic.
Wilson also suggested that the city arrange programs – free yoga classes, for example, or poetry recitals and musical performances – in the park. "If people see the park being used, they will want to use it themselves," he said.
The men also proposed that the city start a small grants program to help property owners improve their buildings with things like new awnings and signs.
Muldrow said that for too long, people have heard mention of Seaford and thought, "Oh yes, those DuPont jobs."
"That is in the past," he said. "We've got a bright future here. Seaford has a long history of finding solutions to problems – Seaford solutions – and is doing that now."
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