Ocean View weighs fate of historic home

Ocean View is trying to build a Department of Public Works (DPW) building, a group of property owners is hoping to establish a historical district, and a 103-year-old house is caught in the middle.

The town purchased the Shores property on Central Avenue several years ago, and staff camped out there while the new town hall was under construction. Charlie McMullen, the town’s administrative official and public works supervisor, still has his temporary offices in that building.

McMullen’s office is watertight, but somewhat inefficient to heat — and the public works vehicles are presently housed in a somewhat dilapidated garage on that property, or parked out in the weather.

Council built $250,000 into this year’s budget to build a new facility, and the town owns various parcels of land in the immediate vicinity which would be ideal for centralized public works operations.

However, even if the town can mix and match some parkland conservation easements to make a parcel for the proposed facility, it appears there still won’t be quite enough room.

The Shores property could make the difference.

The town could demolish the house, incorporate the cleared lot into John West Park and free some additional acreage north of town hall from its conservation easement. Or, the town could sell the property, use the proceeds to buy another parcel somewhere else in town and built the public works facility there. Council also broached the possibility of splitting the facility between two sites — one near the park (one of public works’ primary responsibilities) and town hall, plus a smaller facility elsewhere.

Council Member Norm Amendt favored the tear-down and swap option at the Sept. 6 council meeting, and Council Member Bill Wichmann said he could live with selling the Shores property, but he couldn’t live with “piecemealing” the facility.

“I don’t think that’s the way we should set out in design,” Wichmann noted.

However, in light of testimony from Eugenia “Jean” Athan, and the applause it generated, even Amendt conceded the town should perhaps pursue the second option in some form.

Earlier this summer, Athan hosted historian Robin Bodo from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and Trent Margrif, director of the Preservation Delaware nonprofit, for a community meeting about a possible historic district in Ocean View.

According to Athan, Bodo had called Ocean View “a rare example of an intact oceanside Delaware community,” and Margrif had voiced admiration as well.

“Both agreed Ocean View was worthy of listing on the National Register of Historic Places,” Athan pointed out.

In recent weeks, she gathered interested property owners and identified a handful willing to serve on a committee to further investigate the possibility (and council formally inducted those committee members later in the evening, Sept. 6).

As Athan pointed out, many of the houses around Ocean View might seem simple, not necessarily as glamorous as homes in some of the newer communities. “But we must not lose sight of the fact that the community was built by the people who helped make America strong,” she said, referring to a working class that was still recovering from the nation’s Civil War.

“Their contribution to America is just as important as the great industrialists’, and we’re fortunate to have this bit of history in our midst,” Athan concluded.

If the town was seriously considering a sale of the Shores property, she said she’d be the first to put in an offer — and she promised to preserve it, as well.

Council decided to initiate a search for a new parcel that could replace the Shores property. If they do sell, they’ll need to find land and build a facility, before a change of hands puts McMullen out of his temporary offices.