Milton commission denies application to demolish Union Street house

Loblolly seeking to link adjoining properties
February 23, 2024

Story Location:
420 Union Street
Milton, DE 19968
United States

Milton Historic Preservation Commission denied an application Feb. 13 by Loblolly LLC to demolish a house at 420 Union St. 

Johnny Hopkins, vice president and general manager of Loblolly, said the company, which is the property management arm of Draper Holdings, purchased the house in October. He said the property was contiguous to a property Loblolly owned behind the house on Willow Street and Mulberry Street. 

Hopkins said after a home inspection, it was revealed that the house had roof leaking, rot, mold and other problems. Following that report, the company explored the idea of demolishing it. Hopkins said the house is a non-contributing structure to the historic district. 

Changes to any structure within the historic district fall under the purview of the commission. Owning property within the historic district comes with certain tax advantages, but renovations to historic properties must get approval from the commission. For a home in the district to keep its historic status, it must be in its original location. A contributing parcel is a structure that is of historic value based on its original building or renovations that have not altered the structure too much. Non-contributing parcels are properties that are in the historic district but are either new construction or have been extensively renovated or moved from the original location.

Hopkins said some improvements were made to the house around 2000, but after the home inspection, and given what Loblolly paid for the parcel, the company had no desire to try to renovate the house further. Should Loblolly be allowed to demolish the structure, Hopkins said, the company would try to salvage individual pieces of the house, such as planking.

The problem for the commission is that Milton has strict regulations for demolishing a home in the historic district, including having a structural engineer look at the house before the commission even considers approving demolition. Hopkins said he was aware of that but made the decision to come before the commission anyway. 

When asked by commission Chair Diane Hake what Loblolly planned to do with the land, Hopkins said the intent was strategic to connect an 8-acre parcel Loblolly owns at the corner of Mulberry Street and Willow Street. That parcel has been pegged for a number of different projects that have not gotten off the ground, including, most recently, a medical office facility. With the purchase of 420 Union St., Loblolly owns the corner lot at Willow and Union.

“If we ever needed to do something with that property as far as sidewalks, easements, utility easements, that sort of thing, we would have the whole length of Willow Street,” Hopkins said.

At this time, he said, Loblolly has no plans for either the Union Street parcel or the larger parcel on Mulberry Street. 

Commissioner Al Benson led the charge opposing demolition, saying that while the house has been altered, it is part of the historic architecture of that stretch of Union Street.

“To tear down that house, to me, seems to be irresponsible. I understand there’s a lot of work to be done. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to a lot of our historic homes,” he said. 

The commission also told Hopkins that historic district regulations make no distinction between contributing and non-contributing properties and that either way, to demolish the house, Loblolly had to hire a structural engineer. 

Hake said the commission’s job is to preserve, and even though the property is non-contributing, the house has not been condemned. Hopkins tried to get the commission to table the application, but the commission moved forward with denying the application. Hopkins indicated he will appeal the decision.


Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter