Bethel takes on Bradley house

Church accepts task of repurposing eyesore
February 10, 2014
The Rev. Earle Baker of Bethel United Methodist Church said it will be at least a year before the church knows its plans for the former Earl Bradley house, which was donated to the church by Wells Fargo. BY RON MACARTHUR

The house of convicted pedophile Earl Bradley still stands in Lewes, a stark reminder of crimes that shocked the Cape Region.

The property was recently donated to Bethel United Methodist Church, which now must decide what to do with it. Church officials say those plans will take time to work out, but Lewes Mayor Jim Ford said the city is open to whatever ideas the church brings forth.

The Rev. Earle Baker said the church plans to rename the property Hope House.

“We were asked to take it,” Baker said. “We didn’t have a plan. We want to be good neighbors. We want it to represent hope. We hope this chapter will be happier for Lewes than the last one.”

The church was asked to take the property by Wells Fargo, which assumed ownership after foreclosing on it. Future plans are limited because the property sits in the city's historic district.

Barbara Nate, spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said the company had been unable to secure a buyer and was unable to obtain approval from Lewes officials to demolish the house because of its historic status.

Wells Fargo decided to donate the property to the church with no restrictions on its use, she said. The bank also donated $100,000 for use on the property.

Ford said Wells Fargo had discussed allowing the city to buy the property at a discounted rate, demolish the house and build a small park on the site. But Ford said those discussions did not go forward because city officials were concerned about parking and maintenance costs.

Baker said the church must first clarify what uses can be made of the house; because it sits in the historic district, it could not be used as a shelter, he said. The neighborhood has houses used as offices, so it could be used as office space or for meeting rooms that could host support groups, he said.

Second, Baker said, the house will need renovations after years of neglect following Bradley’s arrest. In addition to suggestions from the congregation, he said the church also plans to solicit input from the Lewes-Rehoboth Association of Churches about future uses.

Ford said the property is zoned as a single-family residence in the historic district, meaning any demolition would have to be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission. He said the property could be used for a home business or as a parsonage; the church could apply for a use variance with the Board of Adjustment.

Ford said city officials have had discussions with church officials as to the use of the property, but ultimately the church must bring a plan to city council and the public for discussion. Baker said it would likely be a year before anything happens.

Ford said he was glad to see the church take on a property that has been neglected for four years, and he hopes the church can turn the negative aspects of the property into something positive.

“Earl Bradley brings up a lot of old wounds. We’re not trying to aggravate that. We’re trying to move on,” Baker said.