State puts ranger house up for rent

Oceanfront property in Seashore State Park raises questions
April 25, 2014

The sign is no longer there, but a bright yellow Jack Lingo Realtor "For Rent" sign posted at Delaware Seashore State Park has people asking questions.

Among them is former Sen. George Bunting, who said he has questioned the building of a park superintendent's house at the park's northern limits since it was put there in 1982.

There's no other location along the state's entire coastline that has a superintendent's house sitting up on it like this one, Bunting said April 23. He said the construction of this house was one of the first issues he addressed when first elected to the Delaware House of Representatives in 1982.

“It shouldn't have been there to begin with,” he said of the house, which stands on a quarter-acre lot just south of Dewey Beach. “Why would you do that?"

Bunting said the house is so far removed from Indian River Inlet marina that it served no purpose to house a ranger there.

More than 30 years later, two ranger houses have been built at the inlet, eliminating the need for a park superintendent to live in the Nanticoke-style house near Dewey.

As a result, state parks officials have decided to put the house up for rent ; they hired Rehoboth-based Jack Lingo Realtor as property manager.

Matthew Ritter, state parks planning and operations section manager, said the property has been listed with Lingo in a pilot program to see if hiring a private contractor is cheaper and more efficient than for park staff to maintain the property through the summer. The house was used from 1992 to 2013 by one ranger and his family, but he changed jobs and moved to Dover, so the house has been vacant since.

“The goal is to see if there's an opportunity to reduce staff demand, while increasing revenue sources,” said Ritter.

Bunting noticed a For Rent sign in front of the crushed stone driveway for the cottage last week and was curious. The sign was still there April 21, but by April 24, it had disappeared.

“I don't fault the state for trying to get money out of the property now,” Bunting said. “It just shouldn't have been there since the beginning.”

Ritter said 65 percent of the operating budget for Delaware's state parks comes from the fee structure in place, including park fees, drive-on tags, and program fees. The parks are always trying to find new revenue streams, he said.

According to the Lingo website, the rates for the cottage are $400 daily or from $2,000 to $2,995 weekly, depending on the dates the house is rented. It's advertised as a secluded beachfront home that is a one-of-a-kind property. The listing says it's been completely renovated with all new furnishings, with a large ocean front deck, a private path to the beach and plenty of parking. The structure has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and it sleeps eight. There's central air conditioning, wireless internet, satellite and a washer and dryer.

The house is in a location where, Bunting said, “The highest paid CEOs in the state couldn't afford to stay there.”

Ritter said to get the house ready for renting, over the past year, $63,000 was spent on repairs and renovations. The improvements include a renovated kitchen and bathrooms, a new deck, new carpet and furnishings.

Ritter said if the house is rented to full occupancy all summer it could bring in $30,000 in revenue to the park system, which means it would pay for itself in two years.

“That's a great turn around to cover expenses. Beyond that, it would go into regular revenue to offset operating costs,” said Ritter.

Jo-Ann Bacher, Jack Lingo rental manager, said the property was excellent and that it was nearly booked for the summer. According to the availability calendar on the Lingo website it is booked from April 24 to May 2, available from May 3 to June 13 and booked solid from June 14 to Aug. 29.

“We're glad to have it in the inventory,” Bacher said.

Ritter said the costs associated with hiring a private company to manage the property for the summer and the amount of revenue expected meant that under the state's procurement rules a request for proposal was not required. He said if the program is successful and then adopted for more properties throughout the state, it would include requests for proposals.

Ritter said Lingo was chosen because park staff thought it was the most visible realtor.

“There's really no science beyond that,” he said.