Controversy surrounds possible cottage move

While Bethany Beach town officials are hoping to secure the donation of a historic cottage this week, there is opposition to the relocation of the cottage onto a town lot that some nearby residents claim is unsuitable for the structure, and for its use as a town museum.

The owners of the Dinker Cottage, located at 310 Garfield Parkway, have offered to donate the cottage that has been in their family for 90 years, with the condition that it be moved off the property by April 15. Town Manager Cliff Graviet has proposed moving the structure, which was built by town founder William Dinker, to a town-owned lot on Maryland Avenue Extended.

Narda Namrow, who lives in the Bethany Crossing development next to the proposed location, said there are three homes surrounding the Maryland Avenue site that “will be bumping into the house” if were to be moved there.

Although the land is already owned by the Town, Namrow said the lot has been used for many years as green space by neighboring residents and visitors. She said the use of the lot has not been limited to surrounding residents, though, and that residents of Bethany West often use it when they are walking their dogs.

She also said she and others nearby are concerned about “noise pollution, traffic, cars turning around and the values of our homes,” if the cottage is moved to the site and turned into a town museum.

“We feel it’s kind of dubious,” she said of the Town’s moves to accept the donation and to go forward with moving it to the new location. If the cottage is moved to Maryland Avenue, Namrow said, she would fear for the safety of her small children. In the summer, she said, “there’s kids all over, playing” and they could be struck by cars pulling in and out of the proposed museum’s parking area.

Namrow said the neighbors first learned of the proposals when stakes began to appear on the Maryland Avenue property. The town council is scheduled to discuss and possibly vote on the acquisition and moving of the house at its next regular meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15.

In a Dec. 14 letter to property owners, Graviet said he first considered the possibility of moving the cottage to the Town-owned former Christian Church/Neff property on the opposite side of Garfield Parkway. But that, he said, was rejected in favor of the Maryland Avenue parcel.

“The Council, after listening to public input, has been consistent for several years in their desire to keep the [Church/Neff] property open, natural, devoid of formal structure and as aesthetically pleasing as possible.”

After many meetings and hearings on the matter of what to put in that proposed park, and taking into consideration a 2012 survey in which most respondents concurred with keeping it devoid of structures, the Town passed a resolution to that effect.

In his letter, Graviet said the Maryland Avenue property seemed the next best location.

“Maryland Avenue is so accessible, close to downtown Bethany and adjacent to the town’s most walked and biked sidewalk west of Route 1, that it seems an excellent possible location for a town museum.”

Graviet added that the Maryland Avenue property “is the last piece of Town-owned property of any size that is not being used at this time” by the Town. He said developers have approached the Town in recent years about buying the property, and that the Town at one time considered putting a 60-space parking lot there, though it currently is used only as an informal parking area for seasonal employees.

Graviet said he had also previously suggested the council consider placing fitness stations and benches there, on a landscaped walkway for public use, but neighbors “expressed strong opposition to such a publicly accessible park in their back yards,” and the plan was dropped.

Now, with the possibility that the cottage could be moved onto the property in a matter of months, neighbors are objecting to the disruption they feel it would cause in their neighborhood. They have also sought, through a Freedom of Information Act request, to obtain a copy of the preliminary agreement between the owners, Christine Edgar and her family, and the Town.

The agreement includes 10 conditions, including:

• The removal of the cottage from the property by the Town;

• Removal of outbuildings (a bathhouse and garage) by the Town;

• Cleaning up of the property and adjacent property by the Town after the structures are removed;

• Approval by the Town of the partitioning of the house’s current Garfield Parkway Extended site into two lots, which would return them to their 1902 status;

• Transfer of ownership of the cottage to the Town and the Town’s absorption of any cost involved in the transfer;

• The Town to pay 1 percent real estate commission to Realtor Jane Hickman Tribbitt, based on an appraisal of $240,000 for the cottage; and

• The Town’s preparation of a certificate of donation based on the appraisal.

In his letter, Graviet estimated the cost of moving the cottage at $75,000, and annual costs of operating a museum to be less than $10,000 per year. The residents, however, also question the accuracy of those figures.

In written comments provided to the Coastal Point, Kent Avenue resident Molly Feliciano said Graviet “provides no formal or written proposal/estimates from licensed contractors to support the $75,000 estimate for moving the house, nor does he state what this $75,000 includes.”

Feliciano questioned whether site preparation, such as connecting utilities at the new site and hooking up those utilities, have been taken into consideration.

“It appears the Town has to accept the Dinker House and do all the required work to find out how much the total cost will be for the Town,” Feliciano said.

Another concern, she said, is the possibility that placing the cottage on the Maryland Avenue site would require moving a sewer main to avoid the house being placed over the existing main, which violates Sussex County regulations. Such a move would require hearings and would undoubtedly add to the cost of the project, Feliciano asserted.

In her comments, she also said that, when the Town passed the resolution to keep the Neff property free of structures, the possibility of a historic cottage on the site had not been considered, but rather larger, more modern buildings, such as a community center.

“Placing the Dinker House on the Neff/Church property does not prohibit the majority of the property being used as a park,” she said — in contrast to Graviet’s assertions that its placement there, with existing drainage needs, would use a significant portion of the park property — and is not in conflict with the 2012 resolution, she contends.

Phillip Feliciano, Molly Feliciano’s husband, questioned the value of acquiring the Dinker Cottage, as opposed to the costs associated with it, as well as the timing.

“How do you accept something without knowing its cost?” he asked. “I would say, in the kindest way, it would be improper.”

He also questioned whether the Town has checked into compliance issues with the house regarding things such as lead paint and asbestos, removal of which could be another added cost for the project.

Namrow said about 100 residents had signed a petition objecting to the placement of the Dinker Cottage on the Maryland Avenue property as of mid-week. She said residents intend to attend the Friday council meeting to voice their opposition and would be wearing green as part of a “Keep Bethany Beach Green” initiative.

She said the residents do not wish to be “adversarial” but just want to be heard. She said efforts to talk directly to Graviet have been unsuccessful.

“We don’t feel we’ve had a voice in it,” Namrow said, adding that she wants to see the Town in a “win-win” situation, and that she feels placing the cottage on Maryland Avenue would not be that.