Residents at odds with developer on revitalization
July 28, 2005
Tiffany Young
Staff Writer

An ongoing battle between some south county residents and a developer over what should be done to Wilmer's Park in Brandywine has led to the formation of a group known as the Wilmer's Park working group.

The group, all residents of the Greater Baden Aquasco Association drafted an alternate plan to the developer's plan for the county council to hopefully delay action for the revitalization project.

Wilmer's Park is a legendary concert venue created in the early 1950s by entrepreneur Arthur W. Wilmer on 80 acres of farmland. It has provided entertainment and brought in musical legends including B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder. Now efforts are underway to rebirth a musical Mecca that is going unused.

Once the park stopped its operation in the late 1990's it became known as the Arthur W. Wilmer Foundation started by Wilmer's daughter, Leslie Parks.

As residents try to keep the music history alive they can not come to an agreement of how they want development to move forward.

The Wilmer's Group is a four-member body that is studying the plans of Wilmer's Park.

The group discovered that the project is being proposed as CB-51zoning bill, under a text amendment.

The residents are opposed to the bill because they fear that if passed Wilmer's Park can lead the way for future commercial development in south county on farmland under the transfer of development rights.

"Most of us didn't know what a zoning text amendment was. We didn't know it bypasses zoning ordinance so it can bring in land development faster," working group member Tom Clagett of Baden said.

The group's plan alters the plans of Bruce Chatman, president and managing partner of Arthur W. Wilmer Foundation LLC.

The group proposes restoration of a historic banquet hall, a country lodge, a 2,000-seat, open-air amphitheater and other on-site recreation facilities. The group also outlined eight conditions that they want either the county or the developer to meet before the process begins. Members plan to submit their recommendations in a letter to the county.

But Chatman, who first took interest in the project, said the groups' plan is questionable. He wants to meet with them to resolve their differences.

Chatman's plan includes a 6,400-seat open-air amphitheater, a recreational cultural center, senior housing and a police substation, but the group has not included senior housing in their plan. That plan has yet to be approved by the county.

Chatman included senior housing in his plan to meet the needs of residents from the Brandywine/North Keys Civic Association.

However, the group fears that a 400-unit senior housing complex would increase the traffic on one of Brandywine's busiest roads.

Clagett said the group came up with a plan they thought would generate support from the Greater Baden Association.

During a July 20 association meeting, a majority of the group agreed to the alternate plan but some said the group should attack the bill not change Chatman's plans.

"No one came to me to talk to me, and [the group] said [they] are interested in working with developers, but no one reached out," Chatman said.

Al Briscoe of Baden said the developer is going to need the community's support to get approval.

"We asked [you] to clean up down there and you didn't," Briscoe said. "There has to be a togetherness here."

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