surprise announcement was made by Andrew Taylor, lawyer for
Carol Harrington, who owns a house said to date to Colonial
times on the one-acre site, at a New Castle County Historic
Review Board public hearing. Later in the session, the board
agreed unanimously to recommend to County Council that it
establish an historic overlay on the property.
approved, that will trigger more stringent protective measures
in connection with any future development. Councilman Robert
Weiner, who represents the area, told the hearing on Mar. 12
that he will introduce legislation to establish the overlay as
soon as he receives the necessary paperwork. Approval by Council
is considered at this stage as little more than a
Harrington, however, testified that the house, associated with
several generations of the Weldin family, one of Brandywine Hundred's
pioneers, is in imminent danger of falling down. "What you're
saving may not be saveable," she said.
Taylor said that an option to purchase the house, held
by an unidentified developer who would have built the store and
station for the Seven-Eleven unit of Southland Corp., had been
earlier -- evidently in light of an adverse finding by the
Delaware Department of Transportation concerning suitability of
the site for the intended use.
of Transportation Nathan Hayward came to the hearing to
testify that informal conversations by DelDOT staff with the
prospective developer led to the conclusion that having such an
establishment at the three-way intersection of Philadelphia
Pike, Marsh Road and Lore Avenue would be a "difficult and
unsafe" proposition. Specifically, he said, there is not enough
room for a gasoline delivery truck to make a turn off
The Weldin House
into the site. "It just doesn't work," he said, adding that DelDOT is not of a mind to "make an
accommodation for this particular situation" by widening Lore
Avenue, which beyond the immediate vicinity of the intersection
is essentially a neighborhood street.
explained that that conclusion was reached "in the spirit of
cooperation which we are trying to encourage" although the
developer had not filed a formal development proposal with the
county Department of Land Use. DelDOT is required to evaluate
such plans from a transportation perspective as part of the
then went on to say that DelDOT is going even further to deal
with this situation and is negotiating with Harrington to
purchase an historic conservation easement. In return for
receiving an as-yet-undetermined amount of money, she would
agree to permanently bind the property in a way that would
preclude future development or use in a manner which would
compromise the building's historic character. The payment would
be financed through the federal 'traffic enhancement' program
which is intended, among other things, to protect cultural
resources, he said.
immediately lauded the transportation secretary for having "done
a very courageous act" in initiating the easement. "This is the
first time the Department of Transportation has done this," the
councilman said, noting that past department policy appears to
have been to do whatever it could to facilitate development..
Hayward gave an 'aw shucks' response, saying that the move was
not intended to establish a new policy, but was simply a matter
of "wanting to do the right thing" after reviewing the facts of
a particular situation. "We're trying to maximize the value of
your tax-paying dollar," he added.
appearance of a member of the governor's cabinet at a proceeding
such as an historic review hearing is unusual in itself, it
served in this case to underline the linkage of the Seven-Eleven
dispute with a major state economic development project on
nearby Governor Printz Boulevard. Hayward had come before the
board a month earlier in support of granting a demolition permit
for the one-time Delaware Oldsmobile showroom to permit
construction of a multi-million dollar data processing center
there by Bank One. Earlier, at a meeting of the Fox Point
Association, he had promised to do what he could to support
opposition to the gas station-convenience store in return for
the umbrella civic association's support of the bank project.
as it may, both board chairman John Shields and Taylor raised
the possibility that the historic overlay could be challenged by
an 'illegal taking' lawsuit. The Bill of Rights in the U.S.
Constitution forbids seizure of private property by a government
agency without just compensation to the owner. Courts have ruled
that limiting the economic potential of a property without
offsetting the resultant decline in its value amounts to a
'partial taking' in that regard.
Swadey gave the board a memorandum of law on behalf of the
Friends of Penny Hill, the group opposing the Seven-Eleven and
razing of the Weldin house, which argues that an historic
overlay in not a government 'taking' because it does not
preclude commercial development of the site. There are already
two small businesses there and Shields pointed out that the
overlay does not alter a site's underlying zoning
classification. In this instance, that is neighborhood-scale
members of the Friends group testified that that organization
has no objection to such use, even to the point of converting
the house itself into professional offices.
board member Thomas Crumpler from straying from the point at
issue, the overlay, in his presentation to the board, Taylor
said 'partial taking' is "an issue that may have to be dealt
with in a different forum."
immediately softened what might have been taken as a threat by
saying that he and his client appreciate the historic nature of
the house and both are willing and anxious "to pursue
good-faith discussion" of the future of the Weldin House. With
the option to purchase negated, "the pressure is off," he added.
testified that Harrington "needs the money" that would result
from selling the property for personal and familial reasons. In
that regard, its destruction appears to be the most practical
avenue for realizing the greatest return. "It's in deplorable
condition. It would take an enormous sum of money to renovate,"
and Harrington were the only ones who testified at the hearing
against granting the historic overlay. A parade of witnesses
Ames, a University of Delaware history professor who is heavily
involved in historic preservation, testified that the Weldin
House is one of a relatively few remaining properties which
impart historic value to Philadelphia Pike. The original Kings
Highway of pre-Revolutionary War vintage has long since
disappeared under the present highway, he said.
Hanby, a former member of the Historic Review Board who traces
his descendancy to several of Brandywine Hundred's pioneer
families, including the Weldins, said that tearing down the
Penny Hill house would "speed up the process of dismantling the
rest of the historic resources" in the area north of Wilmington.
house goes, "future generations will have to refer to history
books to experience our past," said Michelle Reed, of the