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9/5/2007
Councilman Weiner's Plan for Historic Preservation Becomes a Reality

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Edited from Delaforum

 Memos at Random


County government is about to issue a call for anyone or any organization interested in being a rent-free tenant in a park for as long as they live -- or wish to stay there.

After hanging fire for several years, a resident curator program involving at least five county-owned properties will become reality with the issuance soon of formal requests for proposals, according to Tracy Surles, general manager of the Department of Special Services. They will be judged, she said, by an internal committee on the basis of intended use and ability to finance needed restoration, renovation and maintenance. Estimated cost over the next five years is about $150,000. The evaluation process is the same as for any no-bid contract with County Council approval required, she explained.

"We prefer residential or nonprofit [use], but we're not shutting out for-profit commercial. ... We're looking for more-creative uses," Surles told Delaforum. "When we visited houses [in a similar program] in Maryland, I was very impressed that people had done more to the houses than I would have thought." Those who expressed interest when the idea was first floated five years ago in connection with preservation of the Jester farmstead off Grubb Road will be notified of the proposals request, which also will be publicly advertised. There will be open houses at the initially-available sites.

The evaluation committee will remain in existence to look at other properties which could later be included in the program.

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Delaforum

News

 

July  16,  2007

Historic properties may
get resident curators

An historic-conservation idea that has been languishing in the innersanctum of county government for at least eight years may soon be started on the road to fruition.

The Department of Special Services, the county's public works and parks agency, has quietly been working on a plan to attract private individuals and interests to rehabilitate, reopen and maintain currently idle houses and other structures on county parkland deemed to have historic significance.

That came to light when County Council, unanimously and with minimal discussion, recently enacted a resolution "endorsing" development of a resident-curator program. The program is intended to provide a way to save county owned historic structures without putting additional strain on the county treasury.

Councilman Robert Weiner, who spearheaded the concept and co-sponsored the resolution, said the current approach is a renewal of the proposal he first advanced in 2002 as a way to save the farmhouse and barn in undeveloped Jester Park off Grubb Road in Brandywine Hundred.

The resolution enacted on June 26 also lists the Ivyside house in Bechtel Park, off Naamans Road; the Talley house in Talley-Day Park, off Foulk Road; and the Woodstock House, off Middleboro Road near Banning Park in Woodcrest as "good candidates" for inclusion in the program.

It does not, however, provide any details about the program or how it would work. Neither the department nor County Executive Christopher Coons's office had responded as this article was being prepared to several Delafourm requests for that information since the resolution was enacted.

Weiner said he believes the expression of endorsement provided by the resolution is considered tantamount to Council approval to proceed with a plan. In any event, any curator contract would require specific Council ratification, he said.

At the time Jester Park was involved in a dispute over whether it should be developed for active or passive recreation, Weiner again proposed to the then Thomas Gordon administration that a resident-curator plan which had proven successful in Maryland be used as a model for such a venture in New Castle County. Weiner said he first raised the possibility in 1999.

Under that arrangement an individual or family which agreed to rehabilitate an historic property and live there could do so rent- and tax-free for as long as the house was properly maintained at their expense. The 'loss' incurred from the incentives would be more than offset by the 'savings' from the government not having to care for the property.

Weiner, who did not enjoy good political rapport with the Gordon administration, later charged that then chief administrative officer Sherry Freebery tucked the proposal away in her desk drawer. When it was finally brought out, he told Delaforum during an interview for this article, it was "flawed." The plan that emerged did not require the lessee to make the property available to the public on at least some occasions and provided for selection of curators to be made by a committee of government officials and employees without any public participation.

The resolution specifies in its preamble that the curator "be required to hold open houses twice a year for the public." It also calls for establishing a selection committee which would include the Council member representing the district in which the property is located and, "if so desired by the Council member," an area resident.

Weiner said that current thinking would permit an historic structure in an appropriate location to be used for other than a residence. Possible 'adaptive reuses' would be such things as a restaurant or a bed-and-breakfast inn, he said.
Ivyside, for instance, would be appropriate because it fronts directly on a Naamans Road, a major highway. The Jester house, on the other hand, is well off Grubb Road and accessible by a narrow unpaved lane.

Jester Park is still undeveloped. A pasture there has, for several years, been leased to Hy Point Dairy for grazing cows.

The County Department of Land Use property records list candidates for the program as the Hermitage House, dating from 1857, the Jester House from 1850, Ivyside from 1753 and Woodstock, from 1704. Those dates apparently refer to the oldest part of the respective structures. No date is attached to the Talley House.

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