Park N Shop proposal raises concerns
Noise, traffic and students among issues
Bill Wersinger and his partner live across from the Park N Shop plaza in a home on Apple Road, less than 123 feet from where a developer is proposing a three-story building with retail space and student apartments.
Every day, Wersinger hears the beeping from the crosswalk at the intersection of Apple Road and South Main Street and at night, light from the Louviers Federal Credit Union
parking lot, which sits adjacent to his property, floods his bedroom. He said students who live in the area frequently trash his lawn with liquor bottles, and if more apartments are built nearby, things will only get worse.
“It will affect our ability to sleep at night,” he said. “I’m just really concerned about the quality of our life.”
Representatives from DSM Commercial, the firm managing the Park N Shop, attempted to assuage the fears of neighbors like Wersinger during a public meeting June 7 about the proposed project, which includes replacing the vacant M&T Bank building at the corner of Apple Road and South Main Street with a three-story mixed-use building that has retail space, including a drive-thru coffee shop, on the first floor and student apartments on the floors above.
The project is still in the early planning stages and has not been submitted to the city, according to DSM’s attorney Mike Hoffman.
Hoffman said DSM wants public feedback prior to any formal reviews, which is why he organized last week’s meeting on the firm’s behalf with the help of city council members Jen Wallace and Chris Hamilton. The Park N Shop plaza and M&T Bank site is in Wallace’s district, but Hamilton represents approximately half of the neighboring residents, including those who live on Winslow, Sunset and Beverly roads.
Roughly 60 people attended the meeting, many of whom live in the surrounding neighborhoods, such as Townsend Road resident Beth Corbett Wright. Like Wersinger, she also voiced concerns about additional noise, especially when customers order through the drive-thru speaker.
“I hear baseball games and I live three blocks away. I enjoy that noise,” Corbett Wright said, referring to the Newark American Little League field behind city hall. “None of us are going to enjoy ‘ What would you like in your coffee’ at six in the morning.”
Sunset Road resident Doortje Shover questioned whether DSM considered the existing residents before drafting its plan, because they don’t need a coffee shop. She said most of her neighbors have their own coffee pots at home, plus there is a Wawa, 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts nearby that all serve coffee.
“I can’t see myself going there,” Shover said, referring to the proposed shop.
As for the proposed apartment, she said, university students already drive down her street, live in the neighborhood and throw loud parties.
“Why on earth do we need more students in our neighborhood?,” she asked. “It’s already driving me crazy.”
Several residents offered other suggestions, such as a professional building with lawyers and doctors or apartments for graduate students, who would likely have a quieter lifestyle than undergraduates.
John Morgan, who lives about a mile west of the Park N Shop, suggested DSM build a small grocery store there instead. Many years ago, he said, there used to be an Acme in the Park N Shop and he knows residents miss having that convenience.
Morgan asked the people gathered for the meeting if they would like a grocery store and more than half raised their hands, but Robert Wittig, a partner at DSM, was quick to interject.
He assured the crowd that when it comes to possible tenants, the firm has left no stone unturned.
“Nothing would please us more than to have a Trader Joe’s here,” he said. “Trader Joe’s does not want another store in Delaware, and I’ve sat down with them and tried diligently.”
Jeff Lawrence, who lives in the Devon neighborhood, thought student apartments might actually move students out of the residential neighborhoods and into a more concentrated area.
“The students have to live somewhere. We all live in a university town. It’s arguable that this may make the communities nicer from this standpoint,” he said.
“But they’re everywhere,” Shover interrupted.
Another resident asked if there is demand for more off-campus student apartments, to which Wittig responded the University of Delaware is going to continue to grow.
This fall, UD is expected to enroll a record-setting 4,250 freshman, and officials have indicated the increase is part of a long-range plan to grow the student body.
“The indication from the other developers are they’re full,” Wittig said. “This isn’t a large-scale project. It’s just 12 units.”
DSM’s proposal includes 10 four-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units, but the firm will need to ask council to rezone the property from BC to BB to allow for the apartments. The project also requires several variances and a special-use permit for the coffee shop.
Jean White, who lives in Nottingham Green and not near the site, urged the developers to keep the Park N Shop zoned BC and instead submit a project that fits, such as shops on the first floor and offices above.
She said she’s not against the idea of a coffee shop, but doesn’t like the drivethru component because of increased traffic and emissions. She said the drive-thru won’t increase business for existing tenants in the Park N Shop because drivethrus don’t entice people to go into the plaza and patronize the other shops.
“They just bop in and bop out,” she said.
Wittg assured the residents the project is not a done deal and DSM is willing to work with the community to come to a compromise, even suggesting they form a working group to address specific issues.
“This is our vision but that doesn’t mean we can’t make changes to accommodate some of those needs, not that we can accommodate all of them,” Wittig said. “We have not inked a deal with anybody, but we have a concept in mind.”
An artist’s rendering shows a three-story building with a drive-thru coffee shop and student apartments proposed for the Park N Shop plaza on South Main Street.