January  5,  2011

County selects curators for
three historic properties

County government has selected the first three resident curators in the long-evolving program to secure occupants for historic buildings it owns. It received no proposals for the two other properties included in the first round of offerings. A second round, involving four properties, is scheduled to begin in March.

Bob Merrill, program manager with the Department of Special Services, told a County Council committee that even though the curators have been selected, "it's going to be some time" before any of the prospective deals are final and even longer before proposed plans for the properties are realized.

The three properties that have now been spoken for, their prospective curators and proposed uses are:

The farmhouse in Jester Park, off Grubb Road in western Brandywine Hundred; Hy-Point Dairy Farms; a creamery.

The house known variously as Ivy House and the Bectel house in Bectel Park along Naamans Road adjacent to The Timbers; B.T.L. Foundation; a 'multicultural information center'.

The Gregg house off Mill Creek Road on the Delcastle Recreation Center golf course; J.R.&D. Construction; a residence for Michael and Brooke Mazzetti, the principals in the firm.

Merrill said the properties will be leased with specific terms to be determined through negotiations now getting under way. The contracts with Hy-Point and B.T.L. will be commercial leases of an as-yet-undetermined length. The agreement with the Mazzettis will require them to invest at least $150,000 during the next five years to restore the property. After that they will be entitled to live there rent-free and without a property tax obligation for their lifetimes provided that they continue to maintain the property to acceptable standards.

Councilman Robert Weiner, who proposed several years ago that New Castle County initiate a curator program modeled on one in Montgomery County, Md., as a way to stem deterioration that he and others felt were jeopardizing historic structures, said at the committee meeting on Jan. 4 that he was pleased that the idea "is finally getting its legs."

But he complained about being, in effect, left out of the loop while proposals were being evaluated and the decisions made. He said he had no objections to the results, but felt that he, as the councilman representing the district in which Jester Park is located, "need[s] to be apprised of the details." Merrill said the Jester farmhouse was the only property for which there was a competing bid and selection of Hy-Point's proposal "was a no-brainer." 

Yvonne Gordon, general manager of administrative services, said that all proposals submitted in response to published requests for proposals are evaluated using an objective point system to rate them and that the process is open to any interested party although, as a rule, no one from the general public expresses interest. At a Council committee meeting in November, Jonathan Husband, who manages the parks system for special services, said that the successful curator proposals had been identified, but he declined a Delaforum request to identify them or to provide details until administrative services had determined their acceptance.

Councilman John Cartier, whose district includes Bectel Park, said he was "glad we found a potential user" for the house, but added that "we need a public meeting" to explain and to obtain community response to specific intended uses. Merrill said the prospective curators have been advised that they will have to comply with all zoning, building code, historic preservation and other requirements for county approval to move ahead with their projects. Moreover, he added, the contracts and leases will be structured in a way that "makes sure we (county government) are going to be protected."

Merrill said no proposals were received for the Talley house in Talley-Day Park or the Woodstock house in Banning Park.

Weiner suggested that it's time to give up on any prospect of preserving the Talley house. He said it is "an attractive nuisance causing all sorts of police and other problems." It should be historically documented and torn down, he said.

According to a press statement issued by County Executive Paul Clark's office, the properties to be included in the curator program in March are the Hermitage, Lovett Farm-Marl Pitt; Rockwood gatehouse and Rockwood gardener house. The statement gave no further details.

The Jester farmhouse -- which was Weiner's initial inspiration for proposing the program -- will be restored for 'adaptive reuse' as a creamery. Merrill defined that as a place where ice cream is sold. Hy-Point also has proposed putting such attractions as a petting zoo at the site. Neither he nor Weiner would comment on the likelihood that rezoning from residential to commercial use would be required for that.

Hy-Point has for several years leased a meadow in the inactive park as a grazing area for its herd of dairy cows. Merrill said that agreement has expired and a renewal is being negotiated. If completed, it will be a matter separate from the firm's participation in the curator program, he said.

B.T.L., which is identified as a nonprofit organization which seeks to promote understand among various cultures, intends to use the Bectel House for such things as a library, meeting place and the like.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Tours spark interest in curator program.

Access the county government's resident curator program website

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