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Lewes, Delaware
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November 15, 2002     Cape Gazette
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November 15, 2002
 

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r --vAt .-,r ..r.*'" ..or.;.r' rdV'l'VlFr0fA r-' rdlU/r)' 1 - C.E GAZETTE, Friday, Nov. 15 - Nov. 21, 200'2 31d Bank Street building in Lewes makes way for replica By Andrew Keegan Somehow, the ending seemed appropriate. Racing against im- pending inclement weather, a demolition crew brought down a century-old building in downtown Lewes on Nov. 11. Prior to its de- mise, the structure created its own storm of controversy. The former Nature's Touch building at 111 Bank Street was purchased by Dr. Don Ross earlier this year to house a recently ac- quired business - Books By The Bay. A oaf6 run by Ross's daugh- ter and son-in-law was also to oc- cupy a portion of the two-story building. However, following pre- liminary work, Ross was in- formed by contractors that the 100-year-old building was in worse shape than anticipated. Ross, who spends summers at his home in Shipcarpenter Square, considered demolishing the struc- ture until an uprising of communi- ty activism convinced the Florida resident to reexamine restoration possibilities. Unfortunately for the city's historic preservation ac- tivists, severe structural damage was documented on Oct. 24 by Devon Design & Drafting, an Ocean City structural engineering firm. "The building has major struc- tural defects," according to the re- port read by Commercial Archi- tectural Review Commission (CARC) chair Robert Petterson on Nov. 6. "The roof structure is not effective; the second floor joist beams are not desigfied to carry weight up to the new code and the foundation has no substance and is collapsing. It's in such poor shape it poses a safety risk and should be taken down," The seven member CARC panel must ap- prove demolition and commercial projects in Lewes. Andrew Dif- fley, a demolition contractor, con- firmed the findings. "It would be a monumental task to shore up this building and cost a fortune," said Diffley. "This building reached the point of no return years ago." Petterson reported he had in- spected the structure and found nothing to counteract the engi- neer's report. "My feeling is, un- less Mr. Ross has a whole lot of bucks to bring it up to code, it should come down," said Petter- son. Approximately a dozen resi- dents attending the meeting were not accepting of that decision. "I am appalled to hear the scenario that has developed here," said res- ident Ralph Richardson. "I would ask this commission to talk about preservation rather than demoli- tion. This building is included in the register of historic structures and is part of the town's architec- tural heritage." The building was first built in the late 1800s as a kitchen wing for the Virden House hotel. When the hotel was demol- ished to build the Lewes Post Of- rice, the kitchen wing was moved to its current location. The space has served as both a restaurant and various retail businesses. "You are moving way too fast just because of a window of opportunity," said Richardson, a reference to Michael Collins' explanation on the expedience of a demolition permit. Collins, a builder hired by Ross to oversee the project, said it was essential to secure a permit that evening. ''he Post Office will be closed on Veterans Day which is the only time we can do this," said Collins. "We need to block off the Post Of- fice parking lot and they will not allow us to do that except on a holiday. We can have the equip- ment in place by Friday and have the building completely brought down and cleared by Tuesday.'" Resident Barbara Wamell, who operates an interior space plan- ning and design business in Lewes, adamantly objected to the proposed demolition. "It's what you do when you buy into a his- toric district," said Warnell. "I find it hard to believe anyone would buy an old historic building and not investigate it thoroughly. Did Mr. Ross even have anyone look at it before he purchased it?" Anarmv Keqan photo Listing precariously to the right, the former Nature's Touch building on Bank Street eame down in under an hour. Collins indicated that a real estate building inspection was per- formed and "action is being taken against that party." He declined to elaborate further. Unsatisfied, Wamell persisted. "It was easy for anyone to take a look at the build- ing and see it was in need of major repair. I believe Dr. Ross bought the building with the idea to de- molish it," she stated. Bucking the trend of fellow citi- zens who sit on the Historic Preservation Committee, Tom Crowder opted for a different in- terpretation. "George Washington didn't sleep here," said Crowder. "What are we really trying to save? The problem with preserva- tion groups all over the country is they try to save projects like this and then when something really worth saving comes along, the public is tired of hearing about it. You can't save them all." Several residents raised con- cerns regarding a replacement structure. "It would be worth tak- ing a look at the new plans and see the design," said resident Pete Hansot. "What exactly is going to replace it?" Collins apologized to residents and commission mem- bers for not bringing a model of the proposed building. "Dr. Ross is very willing to work with the city," said Collins. "The new building will be handicap accessi- ble and appear very much like the current one." Petterson attempted to further alleviate concerns not- ing the building's new design must be approved by the city. Richardson would not hear of it. "I request black and white figures from Dr. Ross on what he would be facing in demolition against restoration," he said. Petterson dismissed the request. "That's not our charge," he said. "The build- ing we are looking at now is a box. There are no classic architec- tural elements about it." "I'm sorry, but I don't see what the problem is," interjected CARC member Christine Thomas. "It appears Dr. Ross has ex- plored every avenue to save this building," she said. "It is ab- solutely ludicrous to ask for finan- cial statements. He's going to take a documented, unsafe building and create a similar usable struc- ture that will last another 75 years. What if he didn't buy it? It would just be sitting there waiting to fall over." Disgruntled residents departed wondering aloud if the commis- sion had set a dangerous prece- dent. "We are not setting a prece- dent," said Petterson. "We are dealing with this one item, at this one time." Collins was present to observe the buildings demolition during the early hours of Nov. 11. "I love restoring properties," he said. "It breaks my heart, but honestly, there's nothing there worth sav- ing." Collins said a final design has been given to a local architect and will soon be presented to the city. "We hope to have the place ready by Memorial Day," he said. "It justdepends on how quickly the city acts on our plan." Several residents contemplated staging a protest as the building was brought down but elected to pursue another avenue. "We'll concentrate our efforts on getting the city to pass the re- vised historic district regula- tions," said Richardson. EXCLUSIVE PROPERTIES DESERVE EXCLUSIVE LOANS Licensed Mortgage Broker in DE and MD FOR UNBELIEVABLE JUMBO PROGRAMS AND EXCLUSIVE SERVICE, call Allison Workman (302) 337-0840 Direct (302) 645-9181, ext. 109 office Table with Chairs Piece Bedroom - Only $799 5 Piece Set - Only $299 .......... Dresser Mirror Nightstand Know Value'" 12 Highway One, Lewes, Delaware 3023444233