announcement by Tracy Surles, senior manager in the Department
of Community Services, came as the board took testimony on
whether to recommend that County Council apply historic zoning
overlays on it and two other properties. The Historic Review
Board and an overwhelming majority of members of the public
participating in the hearing supported its doing so.
curator program, which is in use in Maryland and elsewhere,
provides for a person who commits to investing a significant sum
of money and 'sweat equity' in an historic structure and agrees
to make it available on at least a limited basis to the public
to be given a lifetime rent-free lease and possibly qualify for
a tax deduction for what is expended to preserve and maintain
actually was one of two proverbial knights in shining armor to
effect classic nick-of-time rescues at the marathon session on
Aug. 5. The other was Ralph Reeb, director of planning for the
Delaware Department of Transportation, who disclosed in a letter
read into the hearing record that the state agency will buy the
Weldin house on Philadelphia Pike half way up Penny Hill.
properties have been the objects of community controversies for
the past several months. Residents of developments in the area
of the Jester farm were aroused by reports that a regional
soccer organization wanted to locate as many as eight fields on
the site and focused efforts to counter that on the county's
request for a permit to demolish the house, which is believed to
date back to circa 1800. The Weldin house, which is even older
and was owned by one of the hundred's pioneer families, sits on
a tract which the Seven-Eleven convenience store chain sought to
buy. Under that plan it would have been torn down to make
room for a store.
Hammond, a member of the land search committee of the Concord
Soccer Association, said the league still thinks the Jester
property would be a good site for its youth sports program, but
has dropped efforts to put it there because "we don't want to go
where we're not wanted." Seven-Eleven withdrew its proposal
several months ago after Secretary of Transportation Nathan
Hayward sided with community opponents of its plan and pledged
to do whatever was possible in his official capacity to thwart
and Reeb both asked the Planning Board to deny or at least delay
a decision on whether to recommend historic overlays, which
presumably would prevent Council from taking action on the
matter in October, when it is to hold one of the year's three
sessions at which it is permitted to consider zonings. Imposing
an historic overlay is considered a rezoning although it does
not affect the underlying zoning classification of the property.
said that, although the county no longer has any intention of
demolishing the house, her department does not want to encumber
its administration "five or 10 years down the road" when it
might revisit its plan to develop the property as parkland.
a delay would allow time for DelDOT to complete the mandated
process for purchasing that property and begin deciding to what
use it should be put. Wayne Rizzo, of the department's real
estate section, who attended the hearing, later told the board
that a delay was not necessary as long as the overlay applied
just to the farmhouse and not the entire site at the
intersection of the pike with Marsh Road and Lore Avenue.
Uncontested at the hearing was a request by C.P.S. Investors for
an overlay on the Holloday house on Briars Lane off Kennett Pike
just north of the Barley Mill Road interchange at Greenville.
The firm wants to put up an addition to a garage and greenhouse
on the site for offices and to convert the house into offices
while preserving its exterior appearance and the park-like tract
on which it sits, C.P.S.'s lawyer, Wendy Stabler, testified.
There are no prospective tenants for the offices at this time
but the preference would be a single law or financial services
firm, she said.
property is considerably younger than the farmhouses, having
been built in the early 1930s by a Du Pont Co. executive as a
wedding present for his daughter. It is considered historic,
Stabler said, because it is "a smaller version of the grand
estate homes" in that part of Christiana Hundred popularly
referred to hereabouts as 'château country'.
peripheral issue raised by the controversial cases is the fact
that both proposals for historic overlays were initiated by the
Historic Review Board and not the owners or prospective owners
of the properties involved. Such a pro-active stance could be
construed as having the board, a public body, decide the merits
of its own proposal.
Sheila Neff nor Marilyn Reed, the review board members who
presented its positions at the hearing, spoke directly to that
point. Nanette Swadey, a lawyer
who testified on behalf of the Friends of Penny Hill, a
community group organized during the Seven-Eleven dispute,
said her research found that the panel does have the authority
to do that. Chairman Victor Singer did not indicate whether the
Planning Board will deal with that question.
Harrington, who presently owns and lives in the Weldin House,
does not want an overlay because it could diminish the amount of
money that could be realized from its sale. Even though DelDOT
apparently is now committed to buy it, Harrington's lawyer,
Andrew Taylor, said that could still hold because DelDOT is
statutorily required to base its bid on an independent appraisal
considering the 'highest and best' use of the property under
existing conditions. Limitations imposed by an overlay on either
the house or the site before the sale is consummated could limit uses and thereby
decrease the allowable bid, Taylor said.
Surles testified that the county
originally sought a demolition permit because an engineering
study discovered structural defects in the Jester farmhouse that
would cost upwards of $100,000 to remedy. The county acquired
the property in the 1970s as part of its parkland acquisition
program, but agreed for the former owner to live there until the
She said park development is
indefinitely on hold and that matter would not be reopened
without community participation. Meanwhile, she said, Special
Services is now negotiating a formal lease with Hy-Point Dairy
to replace the present informal agreement. Hy-Point keeps cows
there and uses part of the farm to grow feed for them. Surles
said the lease probably will have a term of five or six years.
Referring to the resident-curator
program, Surles said Gordon and Sherry Freebery, the county's
chief administrative officer, are "very impressed with the
program" and that a plan has been drafted to implement it. But
Surles gave no details. A group of community representatives
convened by Councilman Robert Weiner has been studying that idea
and others related to historic preservation. Weiner did not
attend the Planning Board hearing.
Before Surles's announcement, William
Day Jr., who owns the abutting property, testified that the
Jester farm "is a perfect example of a working farm" common to
Brandywine Hundred in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. He said
it "reflects the life of the average citizen of 150 years ago"
and it is well worth preserving "properties of people other than
those who owned powder mills" for future generations.
He said he has an especial interest
in the issue because his father, William Sr., was born and
raised there. "It should really be called the Jester-Day farm,"
he said. Day's son, William III, testified that the old house
"is like a senior citizen who can tell us stories of the past."
Tod Baseden, who also lives on Grubb
Road, testified about what he called overwhelming community
support for keeping the property essentially the way it is now
and not give it over to sports or other active recreation. "Too
many of these old homes are being destroyed," he said.
He endorsed the resident-curator
program as a means that has been proven successful elsewhere and
would work here, Disputing the suggestion it has structural
problems, he said, "You could live in it right now."
Charles Field, who spoke on behalf of
the Friends of Penny Hill, testified that his organization did
not oppose reuse of the Weldin House for a purpose consistent
with its neighborhood-commercial zoning status. He said that
would be "in keeping with the character of the neighborhood"
which has 19 commercial establishments, 21 former residences
converted to commercial uses and 25 residences.