Bethany prepares for possible gift of founder’s house

The Town of Bethany Beach is getting a big gift just in time for the holiday season, but it’s a gift at least a few residents hope they’ll return, or at least relocate. Resident Christina Edgar and her family have offered to donate to the Town the historic Dinker Cottage, first built in the town around 1902 by one of its founding fathers, Pittsburgh businessman William A. Dinker.

The cottage is sometimes referred to as the “Dinker House” — a moniker shared by its 1904 replacement, which is still located at 99 First Street and was once nicknamed “The Oriole” for its original black-and-orange paint scheme.

The smaller cottage was moved in 1922 and is now located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 1 and Garfield Parkway, at 310 Garfield Extension, on property owned at the time by William Short. But its historical connection to Bethany Beach didn’t end when it was moved. During 1923 and 1924, the cottage served as the Bethany Beach post office. It was then purchased by Edgar’s family, which has owned and used it for 90 years.

Edgar, now hoping to re-partition the 100-foot-wide property into two lots so that a new house can be built there, recently entered into discussions with the Town about the possibility of donating the historic structure, and Town Manager Cliff Graviet brought the idea to the council at their November workshop to gauge possible interest on their part in accepting the cottage as a historical home and possible future site for a Bethany Beach museum.

Graviet praised the Edgar family for their upkeep of the house for the better part of a century, saying, “It’s really unchanged. … It’s a real credit to the Edgar family over the years — it’s been exceptionally well maintained, preserved with very few alterations, the original floors and ceilings, the fireplace at the base of the stairs. The house is not heated, so, as was the case in the old days, the fireplace is located so the heat can rise.

“The post office was located in the little room right off the porch,” he and Edgar noted, referencing photographs of the cottage from when it was in use as a post office that are part of the photo presentation in the kiosk in the museum lobby at town hall.

Graviet acknowledged the potential expense of the Town accepting the donation of a century-old home, but said the condition of the Dinker Cottage is unusual and contrasts with the condition of the former Addy Cottage, which was also donated to the Town and, relocated to Garfield Parkway, is now home to the Bethany Beach Nature Center.

“That house required a major restoration,” he said of the Addy Cottage. “Yes, it is an interesting piece of history … but it had to be gutted, and we put a good bit of resources in it.

“I can tell you I probably wouldn’t be sitting here even suggesting … accepting this house if it was in the same condition as that house. The interior is one of the things that makes the [Dinker] house really appealing.”

Graviet also emphasized the home’s importance in the town’s history.

“In 1909, when the town petitioned the legislature for incorporation, [Dinker’s] was the first name on that request. He is listed as the [development group’s] first president, which may have had a similar function to what a mayor’s function would have been.

“The house has a very special appeal to us in terms of the value of its history in a community that’s only 116 years old or so. It’s one of the older homes and was owned by the first president of the organization that developed the community as we know it today.

“It’s a unique piece of property, a unique piece of history — not only as relates to Mr. Dinker, but as would relate to turning it into a museum,” Graviet added, noting that Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee Chairwoman Carol Olmstead had discussed with him how well the cottage would lend itself to becoming a museum, “furnished in the period, with added display cases.”

He said he didn’t think the space would lend itself to moving the existing historical information boards from the town hall lobby, if they are even short enough to fit there, but would provide a space for the Town to display a number of historical items that it doesn’t currently have room to display.

“We don’t display all we can,” he emphasized, pointing to the potential for touchscreen and other technology to offer history and information on video in a way that “makes smaller structures like [the Addy Cottage] very attractive in presenting the town’s history,” such as the town hall kiosk or the history of the Addy Cottage that is now presented there. “But this is not a small house or small cottage, and I think it would lend itself for the purpose of a museum.”

Proposed location opposed by neighbors

While accepting a free historical structure, in good physical shape, might seem like a no-brainer to some, Graviet did note that the donation is contingent on a number of “minor issues and conditions” from the Edgars.

The first is that the Town restore the property once the home is removed, razing the existing shed, clearing the property and seeding the lot. The second is that the family is successful in petitioning the Planning Commission for partitioning of the larger property into two lots, which would make both new lots the same 50-foot width of many of the parcels in the town.

If both of those conditions are agreeable, the Town could accept the donation of the house, possibly as early as the January council meeting, at which the issue is expected to be on the agenda.

The other related issue expected to be on that agenda is the subject already of some controversy: where the house would be located once it is moved off the current lot.

After briefly rejecting the feasibility of the donation due to a lack of land to house it, Graviet has now proposed that it be relocated to a portion of the undeveloped Maryland Avenue Extended, which is owned by the Town but was never turned into a functional street. Instead, the property has been used by the nearby neighbors as a green space for walking, playing and gathering.

Nearly four years ago, neighbors mounted opposition to a proposal to create a fitness park and trail on the property. And some of them have already voiced their objections to the idea of moving the Dinker Cottage there.

“This area has been left dormant and used for more than 20 years by all the neighborhood for children playing, dog walking, family gatherings! It has been a value and treasure for the many residents who live on Hollywood and Kent,” said Mary Jane Tropea in a letter to the Coastal Point, expressing concerns also about the costs of moving and opening the house as a museum.

“What about safety issues for the children who play nearby? Is it going to be gated and locked at night? Who is going to work at the museum and take care of the grounds?” she also asked, championing moving the house to the town park being developed on the former Christian Church and Neff properties at the intersection of Routes 1 and 26.

“It would showcase the house better, with ample parking, with perhaps gardens on both sides. Much better than to shoehorn the house on a narrow patch of green space. This location would make the park more ‘people friendly,’ where families can visit the museum and perhaps picnic with a view of the Totem Pole and downtown Bethany,” she suggested.

Graviet said the park property had been suggested by Olmstead when the donation was first considered. “I said, ‘Gosh, golly — no way.’ My experience here had been, from the first meetings on the Church/Neff property, that the community had that interest in keeping it as a park and keeping it as natural as possible and limiting structures, if any.

“A day later, I thought about the possibility of placing the house on Maryland Avenue Extended, … on a street that’s one of the most walked and most used in the town,” he said, noting that if the street had been developed as originally planned, it would have crossed the Church/Neff property, Route 26 and Garfield Parkway Extended and intersected Hollywood and Parkwood streets.

As it stands, Maryland Avenue ends at Hollywood Street south of Route 26, with the undeveloped land between it and Garfield Parkway Extended (“the triangle”), and ends at Central Boulevard on the north side, right at the edge of the Church/Neff property.

The property in question would allow the house to be placed with more than the required setbacks — 9 feet on the sides, instead of the minimum 7 feet — with about 21 feet between it and the nearest structure.

The Town would lose use of the property for parking for some seasonal employees, Graviet acknowledged, but might be able to find space for one or two employee vehicles in the rear parking area proposed for museum docents and deliveries. Parking for museum visitors would need to be addressed, as well.

“We wouldn’t want to create venue without creating somewhere for people to pull in and park,” he said. “I would hope people would walk and bike to it, but we would have to make some accommodation for parking.” He said a survey of the property had tentatively found space for 12 vehicles to park on a clamshelled area out front.

Addressing concerns about the parking area (or the docent’s parking area) being used by those not visiting the museum, Graviet said the plan would call for both areas to be gated with a punch-code lock, as is the case with the Nature Center, with no public access except when the museum is open for visitors.

Graviet said the idea of placing the structure on the park property would not only eat up a significant portion of that property but would force people to walk across the park from the planned park parking area to the museum, instead of having parking immediately adjacent to it, as well as place excessive demand on the planned 15-space park parking area.

Councilman Jerry Morris at the November workshop had encouraged consideration of the park property as a home for the cottage, saying he felt the Maryland Avenue Extended location was “a great idea, except the house would be tucked way back and I’m not sure people are even going to know it’s there.”

“I just thought it would be an additive thing at the entrance of Bethany, to see an historic house,” Morris later said of the idea.

Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman said at the workshop that she, too, thought it was a “worthwhile idea to consider, but I think we made a commitment to the people of the town by the survey that … what would be included in the park was what they had asked for,” which hadn’t included a museum or any sort of structure at all, but rather a preference for open, green space.

“I would feel more comfortable if we went out to the people” to ask about the museum being located there,” she continued. “I don’t think this is a unilateral decision the council can make, because we represented to people this would be what we would have in the park.”

Councilman Chuck Peterson said he shared Graviet’s concerns about the lack of space for adjacent parking for a museum on the park property. “It would be going against the concept of a park people walk to,” he said, and if parking was incorporated, there would not be “a whole lot of park left.”

Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer noted the importance of adjacent parking should CHAC use the museum structure for events, adding of the Maryland Avenue spot, “I think this location is preferable.”

“This seemed like it would be the least impact, especially on the park,” Graviet explained. “So many councils and the survey have all said they wanted to keep the [park] property free of structures.”

“But when the survey was put out, we didn’t know we could get this house,” Morris noted.

Mayor Jack Gordon, though, said he recalled the opposition to structures in the park.

“It was suggested we put a house in the park, a fireplace, a library — it was not looked at seriously by anyone on the council. And then the survey — everybody said to keep it simple. I think that’s what we sort of owe the town, and if we go out with another survey, we’re just going to be an extending the process of something we’ve already done. I don’t think it’s a viable issue.”

Addressing Morris’s concerns about the comparatively hidden location on Maryland Avenue, Graviet said, “I think everybody will quickly note what we have there. I understand the appeal,” he added of the park as a potential location, “but we would have to create parking, and with the setbacks around it, it would take up a large portion of the property wherever we put it.” He also noted the rain gardens planned for the park, which would require any structure to be moved significantly away from them.

Town works to estimate costs, prepare site

The exact costs associated with turning the house into a museum haven’t yet been calculated, though Graviet had estimated numbers for a number of the steps involved. Moving it would run about $35,000, he said, including setting it on a new foundation, with roughly $15,000 additional needed to prepare the utility connections for the move from the existing location.

Other expenses could involve the creation of the proposed dozen parking spaces in the clamshell driveway, a brick path and grassy area leading to the porch and possibly creating a brick foundation that could be matched to the home’s fireplace, as well as the possible clamshell parking area for docents and deliveries that might be located at the rear of the property.

Graviet said he expected the Town would also have the structure retrofitted for HVAC, to help preserve it going into the future. Museum components would be a further cost, though due to its excellent condition, repairs to the structure itself could be limited generally to any damage from the move, rather than the complete renovation done on the Addy Cottage. CHAC would also be able to tap some of its funds to help with the costs.

As has been the case with a number of Town projects in recent years, Graviet said some of the work involved could be done in-house using Town staff. He particularly noted the need for a drainage pipe and covering an existing swale on Maryland Avenue Extended. That was work that caught the attention of neighbors in recent weeks, as the Town moved ahead with those steps.

“In anticipation of the possibility that the council would vote to accept the donation of the Dinker Cottage, staff is doing a number of things to facilitate that move if approved,” Graviet told the Coastal Point this week.

“The Edgars have notified us that they would want the cottage off their property by April. With this in mind, staff is working to resolve a number of issues as quickly as possible and also gather information to help the council make the most informed decision it can in January when they visit the issue.”

Graviet said one of the first things the Public Works Department informed him about was the need to pipe and fill the open swale on Maryland Avenue as soon as possible.

“The reason this needs to be done ASAP is the house would be moved over the top of the swale,” he explained. “Unless the pipe and earth in the newly filled swale have had time to compress and settle, it would not be safe or practical to move the tens of thousands of pounds of this house across the swale.”

Graviet said Public Works had also advised him that maintaining the open swale as it is “is labor-intensive and not an efficient use of their time. With that in mind, I had Public Works drop pipe near the swale in anticipation of piping the swale as their work schedule allows.”

He said the Town is working to put as fine a point as possible on the costs to move the house.

Graviet also said this week that ADA compliance will be addressed as the Town explores registering the cottage as a historic home, as ADA compliance requirements are different for homes with that designation.

He said official utility locates still needed to be done and that the Town is waiting on a formal home inspection, though preliminary inspection by staff and local contractors have indicated the home is well-maintained and structurally sound.

Back at the workshop, Hardiman had asked what kind of notification the Town planned to make to neighbors. Graviet said he planned to notify adjacent property owners with a return-receipt requested. Killmer also noted the requirements to notify nearby property owners when the land partitioning would come before the Planning Commission, which is set to happen Jan. 16, 2016.

Gift of historic home garners praise

Many of those in attendance at the November workshop took the opportunity to praise Edgar and her family for their generosity in offering to donate the house to the Town, as well as for their good care of it over the years.

“For as old as it is, it is in excellent condition,” Morris said.

Olmstead said she hoped the council would agree to take the donation. “This is a house that has enormous historical significance for the town,” she said, adding that she didn’t support placing it in the park.

“I was on the council when the park was first brought up. I pushed to have a community center built there, and I left the room realizing that I needed to be a little more informed. It was adamantly turned down. Nobody wants any buildings on that property.”

Joan Gordon thanked Edgar for the “incredibly generous offer. The Town would be so fortunate to have that beautiful, beautiful home,” she said, noting that as an organizer for the Friends of the South Coastal Library’s annual Beach to Bay Cottage Tour, she’d previously been urged to include the Dinker Cottage on the tour. “What an asset it would be for the town. I think that property is the perfect location,” she added of the Maryland Avenue site. “We walk there all the time, back and forth.”

Resident Dan Costello, who himself has owned a historic home in the town, recalled speaking to Graviet about the town’s original homes many years ago. “I talked to Cliff, that when one of the original houses in Bethany came on the market, that the Town should do whatever it needed to do to scoop it up and make a museum out of it.

“The house itself is magnificent, structurally and the interior. There are few of them left that have that kind of interior. As the Bethany museum, it will be a showpiece for a long time and a focal point. And the idea of capturing it for coastal museum is worth pursuing.”

Mayor Gordon asked Graviet what was expected to happen to the cottage if the Town didn’t accept it as a donation and movie it.

“There’s a strong possibility the house would be destroyed,” Graviet replied.

“That would be criminal,” Killmer commented, echoed by several other council members.

The council has just about a month to consider what they might want to do with the potential donation — whether to accept it and, if so, where to locate it — as the next official step would be a vote on those issues at the January council meeting, which is set for Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. The hearing for the Edgars’ application for land partitioning is set for the Planning Commission’s Jan. 16 meeting, at 9 a.m.