The former laundromat located at 115 E. Winter St. has long been in a state of disrepair. So much so that the City of Delaware condemned the property last year, slating it for demolition. However, the property owner isn’t ready to let the building go just yet.
During Wednesday’s Delaware Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) meeting, the commission and property owner Dan Robson discussed a plan for full repairs to the dilapidated building.
Robson purchased the building in 2007 and continued its operation as a laundromat, which it had been for more than 30 years. The laundromat was eventually closed, and the building has been vacant since 2014.
The building was first condemned in January 2018 after the building had been the source of graffiti, vandalism, and overall lack of maintenance that led to numerous code violations. The city declared the building unsafe in November 2017 prior to the condemnation two months later.
Following the notice of scheduled demolition, Robson issued a repair plan and timeline with the city in April 2018 to fix the building. However, due to the lack of progress on the repair plan, the city issued a notice of its plans to move forward with the demolition this past May.
After further discussions with the city, Robson was able to stave off demolition once again, hiring an architect to assist him with the redevelopment of the building into an office space. Robson said he also received interest in purchasing the building, pending the outcome of its revival.
Robson was required to present a plan to address all violations, as well as a timeline for its completion, to move the building away from condemnation.
As part of that plan, the city is requiring Robson to show documentation of secured financing for the entire project by Sept. 30, detailed construction drawings by the architect and application for a commercial permit by Oct. 31, with all work expected to be completed by March 1 of next year.
If those requirements are not met, the city will move forward with the demolition of the building.
Of course, before Robson can move forward with that plan, he discussed with HPC what materials will be allowed for his building, which sits in the city’s transitional subdistrict.
The first order of business is addressing the roof and its support system, which is entirely compromised to the point the interior ceiling of the building has collapsed. Robson’s architect, Mark Schuletz, proposed a prefabricated metal roof, which HPC Chairman Mark Hatten said is not allowed with the historical district or subdistrict, per the standards.
He did say that a metal standing seam roof would be allowed, as would “pretty much every other roofing material in the world” except the prefabricated metal roof.
“One of the things that we can’t do is say, ‘well, it’s better than what is (already) there,’” Hatten said of material standards. “That is not within the purview of this commission. It’s not in the standards anywhere. If you’re going to do the improvements, they have to meet the standards or have a variance.”
Other parts of the building discussed were the doors and windows. Robson said the windows are repeatedly broken, which he said he attributes to the building’s location directly next to the bridge on Winter Street. He said the homeless will gather underneath the bridge for shelter at times, and with the back of his building steps away from bridge and out of public view, the building presents an easy target for shelter indoors.
Because of the break-ins, Robson and Schuletz proposed vinyl windows for “ease of replacement” with the anticipation that the windows will be broken again. However, Hatten said vinyl windows have always been a “non-starter” for HPC.
Hatten went on to say he believes the vandalism can, at least partially, be contributed to the current state of the building and its appearance.
“I know you have a battle on your hands,” Hatten said of the vandalism. “But I do think once you get that (up to code), I don’t want to say (the vandalism) is going to stop … but it’s not an obvious abandoned building.”
He went on to say, “The other thing we always have to be mindful of is if we allow a variance for you or for anyone else, then it’s, ‘Well, they got it. Why we can’t we have it?’”
HPC approved the request and staff recommendations with a 4-0 vote; three commission members were absent from the meeting.
Robson will have just over a month to secure financing for the project and provide proof of that financing to the city in order for the building to remain upright.