One building in Delaware’s downtown district has been the subject of a request for demolition and reconstruction due to aging and damage caused by the May flooding. However, the proposal was met with no support during Wednesday’s meeting of the Delaware Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).
Under the proposal brought forward by owner Rylee Ltd., the building at 24 and 26 S. Sandusky St. would be razed to make way for updated and extended structures. Currently, the building’s two storefronts are occupied by The Stash House tobacco shop and Ruthless Ink tattoo parlor, and there are also two apartments above the stores.
Like many of the buildings on the south block of Sandusky Street, the building has experienced significant damage through the years thanks to the block’s proximity to the Delaware Run and three major floods dating back to 1913. According to city documents for the proposal, the building, now more than a century old, has settled seven inches lower on one side of the building compared to the other side. The prospect of raising and leveling the building has generated concerns from the owner about causing additional damage to the crumbling brick walls, foundation, and other structures in the building. Other issues, such as aged utility systems and amenities, also exist in the building. Because of those concerns, the owner felt it would be “cost prohibitive to rehabilitate or remodel to current standards,” the document states.
The proposed new building footprint would see the building extended from its current dimensions of 30 feet by 60 feet to 30 feet by 105 feet. By extending the length of the new building by 45 feet, it would then line up with the rear of the building at 28 S. Sandusky St. With the extension, the proposed building would include four studio apartments, constructed to current code and health and safety standards. The existing storefronts would also be combined into one retail space.
“In general, I’m very, very concerned about setting a precedent for demolition, especially in the core district,” said Commissioner Joe Coleman. “In the past, we’ve had a couple of demos … it was not a historic structure, and it really had no economic value. To me, this is a historic structure. It still has a lot of its historic fabric.”
Coleman said at the very least, he would want to see a “neutral or objective engineering report” on what the building needs and the costs associated with those needs.
Commissioner Sherry Riviera echoed Coleman’s comments, saying that demolishing a building in the downtown core is a big decision, one that would require more information before being rendered. In particular, she suggested the money that would be spent to bring the building down and rebuild could, perhaps, be directed towards renovating the current structure depending on just how bad of shape the building is in.
Mark Lundquist, the applicant for the project, said he was specifically interested in hearing HPC’s thoughts on the proposed design of the front of the building. Lundquist said he wanted to approach the project in phases to gauge the commission’s general interest in the proposal before investing further into drawings and plans for the rest of the building. Riviera said the front design “needs a lot of work.”
Commissioner Cara Hering expressed concern with the applicant’s entire approach to the proposal and what she called a “lack of interest” in bringing forward a “more well-thought-out design for a proposed building replacement.”
“If you take a building out of downtown, it’s going to be a huge investment to put in something that is worthy of downtown, and I think that needs to be recognized from the beginning of this project, that it is a big deal,” Hering said.
HPC Chairman Mark Hatten said he doesn’t see how the proposal fits the commission’s standards for demolition. He said nearly every owner of a building downtown has been in a similar predicament, and he has seen those owners focus their efforts on the building as it stands.
“All of the buildings downtown have faced challenges, and they face challenges currently,” Hatten said. “Any old building does. I just don’t see where our standards allow for demolition of an actually pretty well-preserved, 100-plus-year-old building because it would be kind of easier to do something else.”
Lundquist said he and the owner will go back and take another look at their proposal before deciding whether or not to come back to HPC.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.