Last July, Delaware’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) turned down a proposal by Rylee Ltd. to demolish and reconstruct a building on South Sandusky Street in the city’s historic downtown district. Now, the proposal is back in front of 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, only one of the building’s two storefronts is occupied (The Stash House), and there are also two apartments above the stores.
Mark Lundquist, the applicant for the project, and his proposal were criticized last summer for a lack of information and detail on the current state of the building and what it would take to rehabilitate the structure rather than demolishing and rebuilding it. Following HPC’s general lack of support following that meeting, Lundquist said he would take a further look at the project before deciding whether or not to come back before the commission with a revamped proposal.
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.
At the request of HPC last year, Lundquist sought out the opinions of two structural engineers, both of which indicated the structural integrity of the building is severely compromised. Rehabilitating the building, rather than reconstructing it, would require the removal of failed systems and major reconstruction.
Both reports were submitted to the city’s chief building official, Jerry Warner, for review. Upon review, Warner suggested, “It would be in the city’s best interest to permit the building to be razed and make way for a new one.”
“The new structure will be historically correct or meet the city’s historic preservation guidelines, be structurally safe, sound, floodproofed, and have fire-rated exterior walls at the lot lines,” documents for the proposal state.
Also at the request of HPC, Lundquist conducted a cost analysis of demolition and reconstruction compared to rehabilitating the existing building. Both costs are relatively close, with rehabilitation being conservatively estimated at $624,030 and reconstruction at $644,840.
During Wednesday’s meeting, HPC Chairman Joe Coleman said it has become clear to him that the building “has some big trouble.” Furthermore, Coleman said the building has “two strikes against it” in both the deterioration and lack of historic fabric left in the building.
“It doesn’t seem to have any of its original historic character, whatever that may have been,” Coleman said. “It doesn’t really contribute to the streetscape.”
Commissioner Sherry Riviera was not as inclined to consider the demolition and reconstruction of the building, saying, “I really have a big problem with the request.”
While she acknowledged the building might not blend with those around it, Riviera pointed out the building still does carry historical significance in that it’s been there for a century. Riviera went on to say the reports showed costs of rehabilitation to be similar to reconstruction, so it’s not out of the question that the current structure could be salvaged.
“I kind of feel like if we approve a demolition, then everyone else on that block is going to use the damage or the water (as reasoning),” Commissioner Stephanie VanGundy stated. “A lot of those buildings could be demolished, and I feel like they are worth saving down there.”
To wrap up the conversation, Lundquist stated his biggest fear is that, given the state of the building, taking the renovation route will only result in a waste of time and money before the building is forced to be demolished anyway.
“I’m not sure what we’ll end up doing in the long run, but I don’t know that we’re interested in trying to salvage it,” he said.
In summarizing the commission’s comments on the proposal, Coleman told Lundquist that any potential approval for demolition will likely hinge, in large part, on renderings and plans for the new building design. Even then, Coleman said a demolition approval is “far from a slam dunk.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.