Cliff Diver bringing a bit of Dijon and Brooklyn to Lewes

Denniston Place to take shape on former post office distribution center site
July 25, 2014

The U.S. Postal Service decision a few years ago to delegate Lewes mail distribution to its Rehoboth Beach office created a dilemma for Cliff Diver: What to do with a vacated industrial building on prime commercial real estate?

Lewes Post Office no longer needed its distribution center on land Diver owned at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Savannah Road on Lewes Beach. The fleet of U.S. Postal Service vehicles that had parked there for 35 years relocated to Rehoboth. The building was shuttered, and salt marsh grasses began to fill the cracks in the surrounding asphalt.

Diver wasn’t sure what to do with the vacated commercial property. It was zoned to allow for a tall, large-scale, commercial building with no side-yard setbacks. “You could put a big box store or fast food in there if you wanted, but that seems to me out of place,” Diver recalled. “I know which way the wind blows down here,” he said, referencing the unique character of Lewes Beach. Diver not only lives on Lewes Beach, but also spent years sailing in the local waters. “I know where the sun rises each week and where it sets. I feel very attached to this turf.”

Many longtime Lewes residents know Diver as a successful business entrepreneur who founded, guided, and expanded C P Diver Chevrolet on Route 1 for 30 years. Some people believed he had moved to France after he sold the dealership in 2008. While they were correct in that he has spent quite a bit of time in France, few realize that his home of 35 years is still an old summer cottage right on Lewes Beach, built in 1903. Its old-fashioned porch is surrounded by gardens that he nurtures and which is reminiscent of the quieter, less hectic days. Its kitchen, behind an old-fashioned bay window, has been modernized, and Diver and his wife Kathryn Byrne enjoy nothing better than trying out gourmet recipes on guests and pairing the dishes with rare wines.

Whatever decision he made, Diver knew it could set the stage for the future of that part of Lewes Beach.

“It needed to be at a smaller scale that would be more compatible with the neighbors,” he said. “I wanted to maintain the real character of Lewes Beach, and at the same time create something unique that the town could be proud of and people would enjoy. The property is within walking distance of active Second Street and the beach itself. But I needed to get a sense of tranquility in there too.”

Diver drew from his experiences over the past few years in Dijon, France, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in New York City, where he spends much of his time enjoying and supporting the arts. While vastly different, these two cities are places where residents have easy access to the amenities and yet where they have created private areas of beauty and serenity. With the help of John Schneider of Broadpoint Construction & Consulting Group in Rehoboth Beach, Diver drew up plans for a development of eight city-styled townhouses. Combining European design clues with the practical Brooklyn functionality, each townhouse has an open floor plan with French doors facing inward to a shared, private garden.

“They have both a public and a private end,” Diver said. “I tried to position the units in such a way as to take advantage of the sun’s arc of travel and summer breezes, as well as afford the owners views of sunsets, sunrises, the gardens and the Delaware Bay.”

Diver makes it happen

In his meticulous manner, Diver pored over the plans for months. He gave attention to every detail. One design option includes a gourmet kitchen with accoutrements he knows are important to someone who takes cooking seriously. There is room for an elevator and two luxury bedrooms and a fireplace. Kitchen windows face the exterior of the building so cooking odors don’t migrate into the private garden. Garages are built into the first floor of the townhouses so owners don’t get drenched in the all-too-familiar downpours that occur in the summer months, and everyone has their own rooftop deck.

Creating a residential development also represents another chapter in Diver's life, for it seems as if every decade or so he’s involved in something different.

A native Delawarean, Diver moved to Lewes from Wilmington in 1977. He opened his dealership in 1978, and  while he never wavered from making that business a successful one, he took time to play his guitar as a way to relax. In the 1980s, he took his hobby one step further, playing in a local band. He still enjoys music and occasionally takes out his guitar.

In the ‘90s, he began to participate in the New York art scene as he settled in a townhouse in Williamsburg, where his Farpath Foundation was conceived. Through this residency exchange program between New York and Dijon, he has been able to support and encourage artists to freely develop their creativity. In conjunction with Farpath, he has maintained a home base in Burgundy the last 15 years, where he has been immersing himself in French culture.

“I have enjoyed working on these plans,” Diver says. “I’ve thought about what I like most about my stays in Dijon and New York, and I have tried to incorporate that here.”

In the interest of the greater community, Diver has pledged $2,000 from the sale of each of the eight units toward construction of the new Lewes Public Library. “As a community and cultural center, the library adds so much to the texture of Lewes.  We want to be part of that too,” he said.  When Diver announced the plan at a library reception earlier this year, Carrie Lingo and Murray Padgett - who are handling sales through Jack Lingo Realtor - announced that they will also be contributing to the library project by donating $1,000 from the sale of each Denniston Place unit.

Construction should begin soon on Diver’s townhouse development, the product of this experience. It is named Denniston Place in memory of good times with a fellow sailor. Two townhomes already have been sold. While Diver will attentively oversee the construction during the next year or so to make sure his vision comes to fruition, he no doubt already is figuring out what he is going to do next.

For more information, contact Carrie Lingo at 302 344-9188.