get resident curators
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. Councilman David Tackett, primary
sponsor of the resolution, said the program is intended to
provide a way to save the structures known as the Hermitage in
Glasgow regional park, off Pulaski Highway in Pencader Hundred,
without putting additional strain on the county treasury.
His colleague Robert Weiner, who
joined as a co-sponsor of the resolution, said the current
approach is a renewal of the proposal advanced in 2002 as a way
to save the farmhouse and barn in undeveloped Jester Park off
Grubb Road in Brandywine Hundred.
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
in Jester Park (left) and Bechtel Park apparently
would likely be included in a county resident curator
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
The resolution also was
co-sponsored by John Cartier and Joseph Reda, in whose districts
Ivyside and Woodstock, respectively, are located.
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
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.
Tackett's 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,
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.
Tackett said he was unaware of
what had happened elsewhere in the county, but has been
separately pursuing something like the resident curator idea
since being elected to the expanded Council in 2004. "I
met with a lady from Newark within the first month [of taking
office] when [former County Councilwoman] Karen Venezky and she
laid out a detailed plan of how she would propose rebuilding the
site and [using] it," he said.
Since passage of his resolution,
he said, his office has heard from "about two dozen interested
He added that he expected the
special services department to put out public requests for
proposals soon and that he is requesting that it hold a public
informational meeting before the deadline for receipt of the
Department of Land Use property
records list the Hermitage as 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.
Tackett said he felt that "if
nothing [is] done they would soon be gone and only words would
be left to describe what once was there."