Since moving to the Bethany area permanently about 10 years ago, Margy Nist has noticed a collective area opinion about developers.
They build without thinking about the integrity of the town, local residents say. They tear down local landmarks without thinking twice and, frankly, they don’t care about local history, lure and the original quaint atmosphere of the area.
But Nist, a sales manager for Toll Brothers’ Bayside at Bethany Lakes development on Cedar Neck Road, said the company she works for is different. And she has reason for her opinion — other than the fact that she works there.
Before Toll Brothers developers started to build the almost 200 homes in the development in late 2004, Old Mill Crabhouse was the only structure on the road. Residents gave directions using the restaurant as a landmark and boaters could spot its red roof from the bay.
It was as much as a landmark as any other structure in the Bethany Beach area. But the summer of 2002 was the final season for the restaurant before its owner sold the land to Toll Brothers.
Still, in 2004, rather than tear the old red-roofed building town and start anew, Toll Brothers builders decided to leave the building standing and turn it into a clubhouse for the new development.
Company representatives credited Barry Depew, a longtime local resident and regional president of Toll Brothers with the idea to leave the landmark standing — although it was not a cost effective decision.
“We wanted to keep the integrity of the structure,” said Archie Kohr, a project manager with Toll Brothers. “Everybody thinks it’s great. And we’re very happy that we have a clubhouse, which we think stands out in the Bethany area.”
Developers added an addition to the old structure, and the development’s one-story clubhouse totals 15,300 square feet, complete with the original trusses and beams from the restaurant most residents likely remember.
Where locals used to crack crabs and delve into all-you-can-eat meals, there is a conference room where Toll Brothers officials hold meetings and a lounge room complete with recliners and plasma screen televisions.
There is also a bar area, with more big-screen TVs good enough for playoff football games, and a game-room with pinball machines and ping-pong and pool tables, catering to the development’s younger residents.
On the back of the original structure, Toll Brothers developers added a pool — one of the two pools in the clubhouse. The indoor pool, enclosed in a heated room with a hot-tub, sits as the main focal point of the addition to the older building.
Adjacent to the second pool, there is an exercise room with “state-of-the-art” equipment, according to Nist, and men’s and women’s bathrooms with locker rooms inside. Also inside both bathrooms, there is a steam room for the development’s residents to sit in and enjoy.
Nist said that although people cannot drive down Cedar Neck Road to eat crabs anymore, she is happy the structure has survived its adjacent development. Inside, the structure is much the same, and she said that it is an “incredible selling point” for people, young and old, looking to settle down in the Bethany area.
In fact, she said, she will likely present many tours of the building this President’s Day weekend, one of her busiest weekends of the year.
“It would have been cheaper for Toll to destroy that,” Nist said, voicing an opinion echoed by Kohl. “They knew that and they took a chance. The people have been real happy about that.”