Two buildings along Spring Street in Delaware have been approved for demolition following last week’s meeting of the Delaware Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). The two properties, located at 7 and 27 Spring Street, were purchased by the city last fall, along with the two vacant lots across the street, for $750,000 after plans for a hotel fell through as a result of the pandemic.
HPC approved a certificate of appropriateness (COA) for demolition with a vote of 4-2 after much discussion between city staff and members of the commission.
The buildings, which were constructed in the 1920s and remodeled in the 1980s, most recently served as an auto repair shop and NAPA auto parts store before they closed, leaving the buildings vacant for some time. Development Planner Dianne Guenther said the buildings have started to be vandalized, with windows and doors being broken and graffiti appearing on their exteriors. She said there has also been evidence of people staying inside the buildings.
“From a public health and safety viewpoint, demolition, at this time, would be in the community’s best interest,” Guenther said. “Again, you can see that the properties are deteriorating, and because of the vacancies, are attracting additional deteriorating conditions.”
In February 2020, a hotel seemed on the verge of becoming a reality on the sites when a COA for the building design was granted to Indus Hotels by the HPC, sending the project to the Delaware Planning Commission where the building plans were approved.
Although the pandemic forced Indus to cancel those plans, Planning and Community Development Director Dave Efland said the city is still “very much in discussions” with Indus for a hotel to be constructed on the site. If the hotel project can’t be revisited, the city will go through a request for proposals for development projects on the parcels.
“We wanted to continue the vision of a hotel as a catalytic project for the Spring Street corridor,” City Manager Tom Homan said during the meeting. “That’s a corridor of our downtown between the university and the downtown district, which is integral.”
HPC Chairman Joe Coleman said one of his top concerns with the demolition proposal is that, to his knowledge, HPC has never entertained a proposal for demolition without a plan in place to repurpose the site. Coleman said he felt such a decision could “create a precedent for other stakeholders in the subdistrict.”
Coleman added that demolishing the buildings limits the options for the site, whereas he believes there could be investors who would be interested in renovating and repurposing the buildings. He went on to say he worries the parcels will simply become parking lots if no appropriate projects are ever identified by the city.
Councilwoman Lisa Keller, who sits on the commission, pointed out that many developers are looking for pad-ready sites, and the demolition of the buildings would make the parcels more appealing to potential developers.
“I think that the type of development that we would be looking to entice into that space would be something where the buildings that exist there now wouldn’t be repurposable if that makes sense,” Keller told the commission. “So, as part of the anchor there for our downtown, I think we’re looking toward having a really attractive site for someone to come in and be able to move forward right away.”
Efland, addressing Coleman’s concerns about the sites becoming nothing more than parking lots, said the city didn’t purchase the sites, nor would they incur the demolition expenses to ultimately add some parking spaces to the downtown district.
Commissioner Cara Hering also took issue with the idea of granting demolition when in past projects, she has expressed the need to see plans for the redevelopment of the site before feeling comfortable with buildings being taken down. Hering expressed the need to see more of the city’s master plan for that area before approving demolition. Homan advised Hering to revisit the hotel plans that were approved in 2019, saying frankly, “That’s the plan.”
Commissioner Sherry Riviera said she believes demolition is warranted, expressing confidence the city will still be able to bring a hotel to the sites. Commissioner Mark Smiles also offered his support for demolition, commending the city for their work with the sites prior to bringing it before HPC.
In his final comments, Coleman said the time that might be saved for developers by demolishing the buildings now doesn’t warrant taking down the buildings when there is still no firm redevelopment plan in place for the sites. He added the HPC has shown a willingness to approve demolition for the right projects, so there shouldn’t be a question that demolition will be on the table when the time is appropriate.
Despite Coleman’s concerns, the demolition request garnered majority support and will likely be carried out later this summer.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.