Bethany Beach has settled the lawsuit regarding the relocation of the historic Dinker Cottage for use as a museum, but the issue isn’t history quite yet, as opponents of the location continued to object to the project at the May 20 meeting of the town council.
While the council had approved in January accepting the donation of the cottage that once belonged to one of the town’s founding fathers and previously served as its post office for several years, a firm plan for its relocation was still needed, and Mayor Jack Gordon noted a number of small changes that were being proposed for council approval on May 20.
“It has not changed substantially since January,” Gordon said. “But it has changed to make it more acceptable as a national historical site, by siting it more how it is currently,” he explained of the future town museum.
Though the Town had initially proposed to create four clamshell-surfaced parking spaces in front of the historic home at its new location on Maryland Avenue Extended at Garfield Parkway, Gordon said that idea had been scrapped in favor of on-street parking and a grassy front yard with a walk — all to better replicate how it has looked and been situated since the 1920s, at its current location at 310 Garfield Parkway Extended.
“The only issue we’re dealing with today is the siting of the house, so we can move ahead with moving the house over there as soon as possible, during the summer,” Gordon emphasized.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet said the house will be 23 feet closer to Garfield than originally proposed, with rear and side setbacks meeting Town requirements.
And though the proposal had at one point suggested the Town might create a brick foundation for the future museum, he said that, with the criteria for evaluating historic properties, they had decided to instead stick with a split block foundation and to place the home “as similarly as we can to how it’s situated today.”
Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman said she liked the new placement of the house on the lot.
“I think it’s better moved forward. At the January meeting, it looked kind of crowded tucked back there.”
During public comment on the proposal, neighbor Robert Cohen raised the issue of the lawsuit over the project, to the objection of council members, who asked him to confine his comments to the placement of the structure.
“I think this directly affects the moving of house,” Cohen argued. “I’m not going to re-argue the lawsuit,” he said, taking issue — over continued council objections about topicality — with the press release that the Town had issued after the settlement, which cited emails from the plaintiffs that the Town suggested showed that the plaintiffs had hoped to strong-arm the Town by asking for documents in order to drive up the suit’s legal costs for the Town.
“I thought it was highly irregular and even slanderous,” Cohen said. “The lawsuit didn’t have to be filed, and it wasn’t frivolous and wasn’t done to coerce anybody. It resulted from a total lack of communication between the parties. … You had the Town spending an awful lot of money, and so did the plaintiffs. You have to have a means in the future to resolve these things, other than people thinking they have no resort except to file a lawsuit.”
One of the plaintiffs, Phillip Feliciano, also offered his comments on May 20, not objecting to the press release, but instead arguing that the Dinker Cottage wasn’t even eligible for historical status.
Again, council members asked that the comments be confined to the topic of the home’s location on the planned site. But Feliciano said the historic status of the structure was at issue, since some of the changes proposed since January included concessions made to better ensure it could be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The comprehensive plan stated three times in the last 10 years that there were 12 homes [in the town] eligible for historic classification. This wasn’t one of them. ... If you’re moving it because it is historical, and you have to do certain things because is historical, but the State says it’s not eligible. … That’s why Mr. Graviet is talking about not having a parking lot, because it doesn’t have one now.”
As to confirming its historic status, Feliciano said, “That house has gone through so many modifications over the last 40 years, it’s hard to do that.”
Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee Chairwoman Carol Olmstead sought to clarify the house’s historical status.
“In my report earlier, I stated we have been in touch with Madeline Dunn, who is the coordinator in the State of Delaware Preservation Office for the National Registry of Historic Places,” she noted. “There was research she had to do , but she has now informed us that we may move ahead and that the house is eligible for the National Registry.”
Olmstead had reported earlier in the May 20 meeting that the Dinker Cottage, as well as the Errett House, built in 1903 and still owned by that family, were both ready to go through the process of getting added to the National Registry, after the Erretts had previously begun the process but stopped midway through.
“We’re forming a committee, and we have to go through the process. … The delay was due to it not being in the original location, but it has been in the same location since 1923, which makes it eligible as a historic location,” she emphasized.
“I don’t know why you have said it isn’t eligible,” she told Feliciano. “Madeline Dunn is the person who deals with this in the state, and she has told us it is eligible.”
Hardiman sought to settle the issue, saying, “It would be great if it is on the historical register, but even if it’s not, it still has a place in the history of Bethany Beach.”
The council then voted unanimously to approve the revised plan for the Dinker Cottage’s relocation, which is now on a timetable to be moved this summer and subsequently opened as a town museum.