Ocean View residents consider historic district

Ocean View residents heard from State Historic Preservation Office’s (SHPOs) Robin Bodo and Preservation Delaware’s Trent Margrif earlier this month, regarding a possible historic district for their town.

The town’s Historical Committee is on summer break, but committee member Jean Athan, said they still had a few irons in the fire, and 20 people turned out for the meeting.

According to Athan, Margrif had brought to light the fact that there were funds available from Sussex County (administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation).

Preservation Delaware provides a variety of small grants and low interest loans. Eligible homes must be either listed on the National Register “individually or as a contributing element in a National Register district,” or eligible to be listed.

The property must be at least 50 years old, and have some kind of significance (historical, architectural, cultural, etc.). Anyone can prepare a nomination, which then goes to through SHPO and the Federal Preservation Office.

For more details, visit www.cr.nps.gov/nr (this being within the Cultural Resources section of the National Park Service). Preservation Delaware’s Web site is www.preservationde.org.

“The National Register program — it’s not a means of administering any kind of ruling,” Athan pointed out. “It doesn’t say, ‘You can’t paint your door a certain color,’ or anything like that. It’s not that kind of program.

“Basically, it’s a means of documentation and recognition,” she said.

“The National Register influences the effects of the federal government, not private property owners,” Bodo elaborated. (Government has to take a property’s historic value into consideration, but property owners can do whatever they want with it.)

Unless they want the grant funding or tax incentive, that is.

She explained some of the tax benefits associated with the rehabilitation of historic structures.

The government usually offers 30 percent of the rehabilitation costs as an income tax credit, she said — and that can be taken in any one year, or stretched out over 10 years. According to the SHPO Web site (www.state.de.us/shpo), it’s also transferable, or can be sold or assigned to anyone with Delaware income tax or franchise tax liability.

“It’s a good incentive,” Bodo noted.

Athan said she considered Ocean View’s contribution to county history an important one, and for her part, would like to see at least part of the town listed as a historic district.

Bodo said she’d done a walk-through a couple days before the meeting (nonexistent sidewalks notwithstanding), to see if there was any potential for a historic district.

“There’s no one thing that makes it a historic district — it’s what it was, what remains, what is changed,” she said. “I think there is an area that could be considered a ‘collection.’”

A district can have a mix of housing types and vintages, but it should have more old than new, Bodo pointed out. And she said it was easier to meet the tax credit eligibility requirements in a district.

“You can do it for an individual structure, but it’s a pretty high bar — the thinking is, in a district, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

One way or another, projects have to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s standards, she said.

(1) The property has to be used for its historic purpose, or one requiring minimal changes.

(2) Its historic character (materials and features) must be preserved.

(3) The property has to portray what was with historical accuracy.

(4) Changes to the original, along the way, may have become historically significant themselves — in which case, they should be preserved.

(5) Distinctive craftsmanship and construction techniques must be preserved.

(6) Repair rather than replace — and there are a few additional criteria, whenever that becomes impossible.

(7) No sandblasting or chemical treatments.

(8) Archaeological resources must be protected.

(9) New alterations or additions have to fit with the historic style — but they must also be differentiated.

(10) Those alterations or additions must be “reversible” — that is, built in such a way that they could be removed without destroying the historic property.

There’s more information in the Cultural Resources section of the National Park Service Web site (www.cr.nps.gov). Or, for a fun tutorial, run a search on “e-rehab” from the home page, Bodo suggested.

Athan said she and some of the others had decided to ask the University of Delaware to conduct a more thorough survey of potential historical structures.

While SHPO did provide some technical assistance, Bodo said administration of grant funding was their top priority — and they were focused on the beach area.

“We’re losing our historic towns down there,” she explained, suggesting state policies that directed new development to areas where infrastructure already existed actually might be compounding the problem.

According to Athan, the conversation eventually wandered onto the topic of traffic, and how Central Avenue (and Woodland, and West) were more and more becoming thoroughfares.

“Looking at a picture of the town, the way it was back in 1909, Ocean View never even had curbs,” Bodo pointed out. “It was a beach town. The roads were the hard places, and it was just sand where they sloped back up into the yards.

“That’s the way it was platted (officially described on the map),” she said. “Central Avenue’s a real bear, but it’s a puzzle what the town could ever do about it, short of actually picking up the houses and moving them back on their lots.”

Athan expected they would approach the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) for advice on how to slow things down, if the district ever came on line.

In the meantime, she said they planned to move forward with the University of Delaware survey, and she invited interested residents to call her for information (537-0452).