Lewes residents comment on proposed ordinance changes

Cultural and social significance of structures could impact historic district
June 30, 2023

Story Location:
101 Adams Ave
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

Lewes officials are considering changes to city code to require its historic preservation commission to weigh the cultural and social significance of a structure when considering demolition requests. 

Lewes Mayor and City Council held a public hearing on the issue June 26.

“It could be a cause or various populations, the African American populations, Native American, if it has some type of historic significance,” said Lewes City Planner Janelle Cornwell.

Historic preservation architectural review commission Chair Barbara Warnell encouraged council to make the new guidelines as user-friendly as possible. “Applicants shouldn’t have to struggle and ponder different words.”

She said if the average person on the street had to write down what “social and cultural” meant, they wouldn’t be able to do it. 

Warnell also wanted council to ensure the new language does not force HPARC to consider social and cultural factors in every application that comes before the commission. “There may not be anything social or cultural about that particular building or anybody that lived there, and we’re really addressing the buildings,” she said.

The changes to the ordinance would put the burden of proof of cultural and social significance on the applicant, not HPARC.

Deputy Mayor Khalil Saliba said council’s intent with the updated ordinance is to provide clarity. He said cultural and social factors have been employed in the past. He pointed to the structure behind 421 Savannah Road, which was saved from the wrecking ball about 15 years ago because it was the location of Beebe Hospital’s first operating room.

The ordinance changes were proposed in light of the ongoing debate on the fate of the Daisey family house at 331 Chestnut St. The family wants to demolish the home and build a new structure that meets historic district requirements. HPARC wants to preserve the house. The entire process is now on hold. Warnell said the city is trying to hire an expert to do a second historical review. The Daisey family would then go back before HPARC after that review is complete.

Darryl Daisey joined the public hearing online. He said his family supports the changes to the ordinance because legacy communities are being adversely affected by some of the rules and criteria of HPARC. “The Native American community is pretty much gone from Lewes. The African American community is 1% these days, which is a dramatic reduction. HPARC does a great job preserving homes and the looks of the old middle-class Lewes or working-class Lewes. They have to start taking into consideration the actual people who were there.”

Other discussions

Mayor and city council also heard comment on a proposal to streamline the project review process as it relates to the joint site review committee. The discussion again centered on making the the application process easier for people to understand and complete.

The final item on the agenda was a plan to build a new parking lot with eight spaces at Ebb & Flow Holistic Spa at 423 Savannah Road. Cornwell said the plan presented addresses neighbors’ concerns about stormwater runoff. She also said some spaces were moved away from the property line, and landscaping will be installed as a buffer.  

Mayor and city council are accepting written public comment on all three proposed ordinance changes until 1 p.m., Friday, July 7.

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