Renovations could be coming to a Winter Street building that dates back to approximately 1860. During Wednesday’s meeting of the Delaware Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), commissioners listened to a certificate of appropriateness request from Hildebrand Holdings LLC that would allow for renovations to the buildings at 184 E. Winter St.
Located at the southwest corner of East Winter Street and Lake Street, the address is comprised of three adjoining and interconnected buildings. According to city documents, the northern building fronting East Winter Street was originally constructed as an 18-room boarding house with an attached grocery store. The boarding rooms were eventually combined into four apartments, and the former grocery store has served as a variety of retail spaces through the years.
Now, each of three buildings sits vacant, and due to a lack of maintenance over the years has been the subject of several code enforcement violations from the city. Matt Hildebrand and Hildebrand Holdings LLC took ownership of the property in June and have already deconstructed the interior of the north building.
According to HPC documents for the request, Hildebrand’s intention is to reoccupy the north building with a retail tenant as well as residential tenants in the above units. The middle building is also intended to be a retail space after the owner was informed it could not be used as warehouse space. The south building would be used as storage space for the middle building.
Hildebrand is also in the process of acquiring the lot at 28 Lewis St., which abuts the south building. Their intent has been to turn the vacant lot into off-site parking for the retail space, a process they had already started without receiving a permit. The city has since issued an order to stop work on the parking lot. After being made aware of the building and zoning process for off-site parking, Hildebrand is now reconsidering the eventual use of the lot.
An air of mystery remains surrounding the entire scope of the project. It was noted in documents for the request that the city was only made aware of the project by Hildebrand Holdings due to a neighborhood complaint of construction activity at the vacant lot on Lewis Street. Discussions between code enforcers and the owner of the buildings revealed the entirety of the renovation project.
HPC Chairman Joe Coleman called the application by Hildebrand Holdings “probably one of the more complicated applications that we’ve gotten in quite some time” given the many “moving parts” of the project. Coleman noted that, typically, projects of such a large scope would come before HPC for consultation “just to kind of get going in the right direction.”
Among the aspects of the project that were discussed by Hildebrand and HPC include the roof and windows on the north building, exterior doors and painting, the north building storefront, and the south building windows.
Regarding the replacement of windows, the most contentious aspect of the project, Hildebrand is seeking a variance to HPC standards that would allow him to use vinyl windows rather than aluminum-clad wood windows in the north building. Hildebrand said clad windows would be “cost-prohibitive,” representing an increase of approximately $17,000 compared to vinyl windows.
However, Coleman expressed no interest in issuing a variance for the windows due to the cost differential. “Essentially, though, that’s the buy-in to the game. If you’re going to develop a project in the historic district, you have to be aware that these are the standards,” Coleman told Hildebrand.
Like most every discussion with HPC regarding variances to the commission’s standards, there was hesitancy regarding the variance and what it might mean for future projects in the district and expectations from those applicants.
Vice Chairwoman Sherry Riviera commended Hildebrand for attempting to renovate the buildings, suggesting that, perhaps, it could lead to further development in that area. Considering what the renovations could mean in the future, Riviera suggested the variance might be worth issuing, while also downplaying the idea of a precedent being created.
“You probably should do it correctly, and we do have the standards. But I also see that we do apply our standards to every case when we’re discussing it, but we sometimes vary a little bit on each case,” Riviera said. “So, when we talk about precedence, yes we can start a precedent — we say that a lot — but really, it never quite happens in the time I’ve been here … I can see where, possibly, this might be worthwhile issuing you a variance just because it’s going to start something. You’re gonna start the ball rolling there, and I think it desperately needs this.”
Hildebrand argued that if HPC’s standards are standing in the way of development and classic buildings being renovated, there isn’t much of a point to having standards to begin with. Responding to a comment from a commissioner about the role of the HPC to uphold the stories of the buildings in the historic district, Hildebrand stated there won’t be anyone to carry on those stories if the buildings aren’t renovated.
Coleman responded by saying the decision to uphold the standards or issue a variance doesn’t have to be the deciding factor in whether or not the buildings can be renovated. He again reiterated that costs associated with the standards of the district in which the buildings sit are all part of the project.
Ultimately, the commission voted to approve the certificate of appropriateness minus the requested variance for vinyl windows. The windows variance was voted on separately and denied, leaving Hildebrand to decide whether or not he wants to go take an appeal to Delaware City Council.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.