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March 7, 1997     Cape Gazette
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March 7, 1997
 

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"Historic" Rehoboth building falls despite preservation efforts Historical Society to issue plaques for worthy homes By Trish Vernon The century old building at 23 Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth Beach was demolished on March 6 despite efforts by Elizabeth Hooper, president of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society, and oth- er interested citizens in preserving it and other structures they deem to have possible historical signifi- cance protected through stricter city ordinances. Hooper sounded the alarm back in December When she learned that the new owners, Twin Lizzies, Inc. of Wilmington, had obtained a demolition permit from the city, as they plan to build a new commercial establishment for their Pizzas by Elizabeth opera- tion. She said their research shows the building dates from the Camp Meeting era, having been in the estate of Revel Heisler, 1804- 1887. Once the home of Silk and Sands Florists and most recently Granny's Discount Outlets, the Economic benefit Preservation Delaware will present its second annual statewide conference focus- ing on the economic issues surrounding his- toric preservation on a national and state level on Friday, March 21. The all-day pro- gram "Preservation Makes Cents: Econom- ic Benefits Surrounding Historic Preserva- tion," will be held at St. Andrew's School in Middletown. Co-sponsors of the day's program in- clude Preservation Delaware, Inc., the Na- tional Trust for Historic Preservation, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cul- tural Affairs, the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office, the Governor's Cabi- net on Planning Issues, and the Delaware building has been in a state of dis- repair and the new owners told city officials and others concerned during recent meetings that it would be unfeasible to try and re- store the structure and meet the building code guidelines. The stringent Southern Stan- dard Building Code was adopted at the behest of the volunteer fire department, which feared a single blaze could ignite a whole block of the old wooden buildings that abut each other in the commercial district. "I'd like to see how other com- munities do it," said Commission- er Jan Konesey at the March 3 workshop session. "I talk to de- velopers who say that cement block and plate glass are mandat- ed by the code and we may want to relook at other ways to prevent fn'es from spreading." Mayor Sam Cooper said per- haps they could look at loosening the code for the facades of the buildings and advocated mandato- ry sprinkler systems. Konesey said perhaps Building Inspector Susan Frederick could come up with some alternatives and they could get together with developers and Main Street offi- cials and discuss adopting new of historic guidelines. This past month, Hooper also asked the board to reconsider its demolition permit guidelines, not- ing that with all demolition banned between May 14 and Sep- tember 15 in the city, and a six- month time frame from when the permit was issued, people who may otherwise reconsider razing a structure now feel pressured into action. (Two 90-day extensions are permitted for just cause.) Asked for a legal opinion on the present ordinance, City Solicitor Walk Speakman reported at the March 3 workshop that he and Frederick are of the opinion that the summer months when demoli- tion is illegal must be counted as part of the six month time frame. The board decided the ordi- nance should stand as written, as extensions can be granted to those who aren't ready to act immedi- ately. In the meantime, the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission is spearheading efforts to institute laws governing "community preservation," and is revisiting tenets of the proposed Historic Preservation Ordinance which was drafted in 1995. For its part, the historical soci- The new owners of 23 Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth Beach have gone ahead with the demolition of the building to make way for Pizza by Elizabeth. The razing of the building began March 6. ety's Bob Salin is researching which properties had structures on them in 1905 to 1910 and his brother Jack is researching what houses in the city have been moved from their original sites. The society has decided to issue plaques property owners will dis- play on the front of their buildings denoting that they are registered with the Rehoboth Beach Histori- cal Society. In order to be eligible, a struc- ture must be at least 50 years old. They discussed limiting it to buildings 75 years or older, but decided that 50-year-old buildings will soon be deemed of historical significance. "We need to make it easier for people to want to save these build- ings," Hooper said. preservation topic of March 21 conference Development Office's Division of Tourism. The featured speaker and facilitator for the day will be Donovan Rypkema, a prin- cipal in the Real Estate Services Group in Washington, D.C. Rypkema has performed real estate and economic development con- suiting services throughout the United States with a special interest and immense experience working with historic resources. His consultations often focus on economic revitalization for downtowns and neighbor- hood commercial centers and incorporating the rehabilitation of historic structures. He has lectured widely and has written prolifi- cally on economic and preservation issues. His latest publication is 'q'he Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader's Guide." Sessions following the keynote include an overview of successful adaptive re-use projects throughout Delaware, state and federal tax incentives, understanding the historic property market, heritage tourism, understanding the National Register, re- searching an historic property, a timely look at historic properties and the film in- dustry, the role of historic preservation in downtown revitalization, and exploring protection options for your historic proper- ty. Tours are tentatively planned for historic St. Andrew's School, as well as the Middle- town/Odessa/Port Penn areas. The conference is targeted toward a wide audience, from preservation professionals, developers, realtors, downtown business owners, Main Street program participants, members of the banking community, and simply, historic property owners or man- agers. The schedule also provides many op- portunities for interested preservation- minded folks to share ideas, experiences and solutions to issues encountered with historic properties. A complete program is available. To re- ceive a copy or for more information, call the Preservation Delaware office at (302) 651-9617. Rehoboth Historical Society opposes removal of wrecks By Trish Vernon The Rehoboth Beach Historical Society is taking a dim view of ef- forts to remove the wrecks of the Thomas S. Tracy and Merrimac from the surf in front of the Star of the Sea Condominium at Brook- lyn Avenue. The society's board of directors voted March 4 to go on record as opposing the state's latest stab at the project, which is also being opposed by the Star of the Sea Condominium Property Owners Association. "After all, we are a historical society and we feel that the histo- ry of these wrecks is an important adjunct to the history of Rehoboth Beauty," said Elizabeth Hooper, Rehoboth Historical Society pres- ident. "It's unusual that three ships have come in at about the same point - it's an interesting commentary on the way things work." People are fascinated by the wrecks, Hooper noted. "More people ask about them than any- thing else in town. People read the commemorative plaque the Star of the Sea people put up at the Boardwalk explaining the wrecks and then they come into the muse- um and ask for the book we have that gives them more informa- tion." The condo association had asked'the society to take a stance after news that a new removal proposal had been broached reached the streets in January. "We discussed it at last month's meeting, but we decided not to take a position at that time until we had heard more," Hooper ex- plained. She, along with other board members attended the Feb. 14 Rehoboth Beach Commission- ers meeting, at which time Phyllis Mihalas, president of th condo association, made her case for leaving the wrecks where they rest, while former Rehoboth Beach Mayor John Hughes, who heads up the state's Division of Soil and Water Conservation, gave his preliminary assessment on removing them. "After the meeting, we weighed the overall benefit of removing them against the loss of something we value. The argument for the need for more swimming beaches didn't weigh as heavily - the state's new rock jetty takes up more space than that," Hooper continued. The Historical Society is the first organization to support the condo owners' efforts. Rehoboth Beach Main Street's board of di- rectors decided last month not to take a stand, as they feel the mat- ter lies outside their areas of con- cern. During the Feb. 14 meeting, Mayor Sam Cooper assured Miha- las that they are "a long way from putting a shovel in the ground," but he termed the wrecks "a clear threat to life and limb. If they can be removed at a reasonable cost, it should be done." Hughes promised to keep the city officials informed of any de- velopments, as he told them he planned to have a maritime con- tractor take a first-hand look. Hughes and the contractor did survey the site last week and the contractor is in the process of re- searching how the Tracy was built, noting that the only piece which could be seen at dead low winter tide was a three-foot by six-foot long part of the rudder post. He believes that all that's left of the Tracy may be ribs. During the summer, when the beaches rebuild, the wreck is mostly covered, he said. "I have a lot of confidence in this contractor and I'm optimistic there's a feasil)le way to do it. We could remove the overburden of sand and see what's left there - it's been a long time since anyone's taken a look at it. From my stand- point, going five to six feet down in removal would be good enough; as the rest is safe and nev- er gets exposed," Hughes contin- ued. He doesn't expect to receive the actual specifications on the pro- ject until late summer or fall, with winter the only feasible time to re- move the wrecks. Hughes reiterated that he will keep city officials abreast of the findings. "We're doing this to help the city. If they don't want us to do it, they can accept responsi- bility for public safety. I suggest they do a better job at keeping people away from the wrecks, be- cause if they refuse to have them removed, they are acknowledging responsibility."