West Division Street makeover planned

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This view looks east on Dover’s Division Street , where city planners are seeking public input for a design makeover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — The city of Dover has several eye-pleasing sections.

Legislative Mall is home to the center of government and key facilities like the Old State House and Legislative Hall. Nearby, the Loockerman Street area serves as a gateway to downtown, with welcoming signs and blooming flowers. Old historic buildings sit along King’s Highway, including Woodburn Mansion.

But entering Dover from the west paints a different picture.

Drivers taking Forrest Avenue may be dismayed as they cross Saulsbury Street and approach the end of Division Street. That area, where the railroad tracks stretch across the road and downtown Dover gives way into a more open and less structured space, lacks “a theme or a vision. It’s not really attractive,” said Rich Vetter, the executive director of the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

To that end, the MPO is partnering with the city this week to gain public input on possible design plans for the area.

Workshops will be held today, Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Inner City Cultural League Community Center at 39 S. West St. The meetings will start more general and become narrowed down as citizens present their ideas, with the goal of developing a detailed plan by the end of the week.

“The idea is to really get a sense from the community,” said Dover Planning and Inspections Director Ann Marie Townshend.

One possible plan is a beautification project spanning the triangle where Forest and Division streets meet, but the city and MPO first want to hear ideas from Doverites.

“As people come to the state capital from areas west, how do we want to greet them?” Ms. Townshend said. “What is the visual flavor that we want to present?”

With the focus on Downtown Development Districts and other initiatives geared toward central Kent County, city officials believe the time is right to renovate Division Street.

It’s not just a question of aesthetics. The Division Street area is one of the sections of the city most affected by crime.

Creating a unified strategy for west Dover can attract more businesses and help residents feel more at ease. In turn, that reduces crime, further benefiting the area.

It is a cyclical process — the hard part is just getting started, Ms. Townshend said.

“The whole idea is it’s a comprehensive strategy that deals with quality of life, whether it’s transportation, whether it’s buildings, whether it’s just street beautification, all of those things affect quality of life,” she said.

Planners may decide to put in more sidewalks and lampposts to promote safety. They might aim to turn that section of the city into Loockerman Street west. Or they could opt to advance strategies aimed at transforming the rundown lots into a residential space.

Absent a unifying plan, the area’s focus currently is mixed. It has residential, commercial and industrial components, and one of the goals of the weeklong workshop is to decide if it should be reserved for homes or businesses.

Much of the property is privately owned, which means the city cannot solely make the determination of what changes to make. However, that has a positive aspect. Ms. Townshend expects most of the funding will come from the state, the federal government and private investors, an obvious benefit for Dover.

Children will have chances to share their thoughts at the sessions, and organizers are interested in hearing safety ideas from students who walk to school.

Officials have been meeting with groups and agencies like the state Department of Transportation, the Downtown Dover Partnership and Wesley College to gauge their opinions. Many businesses are also interested.

“They recognize there’s a lot of traffic there obviously,” Mr. Vetter said.

If the area is fixed up and shaped into a more homogenous section, Ms. Townshend believes investors will come.

When renovation or beautification efforts start depends greatly on what citizens endorse. While much is still up in the air, planners are excited and optimistic about the chance for the public to help transform part of the state capital.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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