Delaware’s Historic Preservation Commission recently approved the demolition of a two-car garage on Franklin Street, but held off on deciding whether the property could become a parking lot.
The request was made by D.J. Young from the law firm of Firestone, Brehm, Wolf, Whitney and Young. The law firm is at 15 W. Winter St., which is around the corner from the garage at 69 N. Franklin St. The firm wants to demolish the garage this year or next, and convert it into a parking lot for the law office.
The firm’s employees had parked in the lot behind the rental houses on 70-72 N. Franklin, but new owners ended the lease, and seven to eight vehicles have had to be parked elsewhere. Enter the next-door garage.
“Approximately two years ago, the multi-family apartment building previously situated on this property was destroyed by fire and demolished by the current owners,” stated a letter to the city by Vic Whitney. Since the fire, the garages remained intact, and the lot has sat empty next to Zion United Church of Christ.
“The entire parcel would be repaved as a parking lot, which would be tied into the church parking lot,” city development planner Dianne Guenther told the commission on July 29. The lot would include a curb cut at Franklin Street to allow access from Franklin and Central Avenue, with fencing at either side of the curb cut, along with tree removal.
Commission members had no objections to destroying the 1960-vintage garage, and even joked about its lack of history. However, they were divided about the parking lot. Some were concerned about establishing a precedent and eventually converting too much of the historic downtown district to asphalt instead of businesses or housing; once it became a parking lot, the property would unlikely be used for any other reason; and the property was too narrow to have many spaces. On the other hand, some members said there needs to be more parking downtown for employees, clients and visitors.
Members of the firm said they may have to relocate its Delaware law office if the lot was not approved.
City planning director David Efland said no rezoning was involved due to prior church easements. He also noted that the firm would allow the church to use its lot during services. Efland and councilman/commission member Chris Jones proposed changing the applicant’s request to approving the demolition of the garage, with the parking lot to be considered by the commission at a future meeting.
“The applicant and the church shall work together to create legally binding cross-access easements to each other,” Efland said, which may be a necessary condition for the commission to approve the lot.
The demolition part of the project was approved 4-2-1, with Jones, new member James Kehoe, chairman Roger Koch and Sherry Riviera voting yes; Joe Coleman and Mark Hatten voting no; and Erinn Nicley abstaining.