The Lewes Historic Preservation Commission has denied a request to build a new home within the city's historic district, citing modern design elements and a front-facing, attached garage that does not fit in with the character of the immediate area.
For the third time in as many months, builder and property owner Josh Mastrangelo presented a plan July 1 to build a home at 238 Front St., across from Canalfront Park. The decision drew the ire of Mastrangelo's attorney William Schab, who criticized the commission's decision-making practices, calling the process subjective.
A Lewes resident himself since 1976, Schab said, Madison Street alone has stucco homes, cedar shade homes, Sears Roebuck homes and duplexes. Proving his client's new home is not compatible is a difficult task, he said.
“Which one is the Lewes home? The answer is every single one of them,” he said. “If you walk around this town, there is no Lewes home. Anyone who says that is delusional. They are all different.”
Some residents in attendance disagreed. John Mateyko, a professional architect, objected to a front-facing, attached garage, saying no such homes exist in the historic district. In cases where unattached or rear-facing garage-like structures do exist, he said, they were designed for carriages or early 20th century automobiles.
“I don't think anyone has a problem with them, and they are the essence of the historic character of Lewes,” he said. “They are carriage houses, accessory buildings on a single property and, of course, they have carriage house doors for carriages or later the Model T Ford.”
Mastrangelo, president of the coastal division for Evergreene Companies, said he has been hesitant to market the property until the project was approved by the HPC. The commission's decision may be appealed to the board of adjustment.
The garage was also a sticking point for commissioners.
“The most disturbing thing to the most people is the garage,” said commissioner Barbara Warnell. “It is not typical to have a front-facing garage as part of the house in the historic district. There are [standalone] garages on this street, but this is a house, and it wants a garage.”
Resident Kim Ayvazian criticized the home's modern design.
“It is a suburban-style house – that is the character of this design,” she said. “It does not approximate by any means the character of the historic district of Lewes.”
Schab scolded commissioners, saying their subjective opinions cost Mastrangelo $15,000 in architectural fees simply because the commission didn't like what the house looks like.
“No one asked anyone in this room if they liked what their houses looked like, but everyone wants to tell everyone else what theirs should look like,” Schab said.
He criticized the city's historic preservation regulations, saying there are very few criteria on which the commissioners would make an informative, objective decision. Just judging whether a home is compatible is not the best approach, he said.
When someone builds a home, Schab said, "What it looks like, that is up to them. The person can do whatever they want with their own property, which is the fundamental law of real estate in the United States.”
Resident Ric Moore disagreed.
“It has never ever been the case that a property owner can do whatever they want or we would never have regulation,” Moore said. “It is a fact that regulation exists to represent the community's interests.”