After five public hearings and numerous comments from Delaware city residents and county officials, Delaware City Council voted in favor of the County’s demolition request for the Elks Building, also known as the Hills house, at 110 N. Sandusky Street.
The vote was 6-1, with Vice Mayor George Hellinger the only opponent; he’d vowed previously that he would never support demolition.
Related: City Council again delays vote on Elks demolition, from July 30.
While there was no public discussion before this hearing, Fourth Ward Councilman Andrew Brush offered prepared remarks for several minutes prior to the vote.
He explained briefly the County’s rationale – that due to the County’s growth to almost three times the 1990 population, the current court system can no longer accommodate the judicial need.
“I believe the county government is committed to keeping the courts in downtown Delaware if at all possible, and they are seeking to demolish the Hills house to make way for a new courthouse,” he said.
If the Council opposed demolition, he argued, the downtown district would lose its courts and law offices, and likely much of the revitalization efforts that have taken effect since the mid-1990s – and the Elks Building would eventually be demolished due to neglect anyway.
“I’m as committed as anyone else you will meet to historic preservation, and that’s why I have to support the demolition of the Hills home,” said Brush, a six-year member of the city’s Historic Preservation Committee.
“A vote to save it is a vote against preserving our courthouse for future generations, and a vote against the viability of our downtown.”
“I think at this point there’s no reason for us not to approve the demolition of the Elks Building,” said Third Ward Councilman Joe DiGenova, adding that it was “a shame” that it was happening.
Vice Mayor Hellinger conceded that the measure would pass before the vote, saying “I’m sure that I’m the lame duck here.”
“…I think that anyone, public or private, owner of a historic building, should deal and view that building in their position as owner as being a steward of history and a bridge between the current generation and future generations.”
As part of the passage of the demolition approval, the Council placed restrictions requiring the County to commit to building the new courthouse in Delaware’s downtown, and also placed the existing courthouse, former Carnegie library and county jail on the city’s historic district, requiring the city to have a say in any proposed demolition of those buildings in the future.
Another issue discussed at this week’s meeting was the Dog Park committee’s recommendation that Blue Limestone be converted to a dog park, which Council voted against as a result of constituency concerns, although they did support further exploration of other options by city staff, in consultation with the committee.
Concerns had been raised regarding odor, noise, damage to the grass and the view that selecting Blue Limestone would close it off from other usage by Delaware residents.
Second Ward Councilwoman Lisa Keller was the only council member who did not explicitly oppose Blue Limestone’s selection, but she seemed content with a commitment to further action.
Former Dog Park committee member Peggy Guenther was not content with their decision, however.
Guenther challenged the odor and noise concerns, while acknowledging that grass would be damaged, but argued that other local locations suggested by Council would take years to become a proper dog park. She also raised concerns regarding the level of funding extended to the dog park compared to the amount other projects received from levy funds.
“You can put a splash pad out by the soccer fields at the Y(MCA), and they’ll be used three or four months a year when the kids are playing soccer, and you’re willing to spend $300,000 for that, and you’re going to limit us to $75,000 if we are at Blue Limestone, which it sounds like we are not going to be,” she said.
As a whole, the city council had expressed willingness to provide funding beyond the $75,000 provided for fencing costs to convert Blue Limestone to a dog park.
“What hurts me the most is that you would allot $300,000 for a splash pad that will be used less than six months out of the year,” Guenther said to the Council. “What about giving us $300,000 for a dog park?”
Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle did not respond directly to these remarks during the meeting, but did comment on them afterward.
“We said at first that we’d give them $75,000, and we’re willing now to go back and get the feasibility study to see what it will cost to put the amenities in,” Riggle said. “I don’t know that we’ll be able to get to all of her amenities. I understand we need parking, we need good grass, stable grass, we also need fencing and we’re going to have to have trees there. I don’t know that we’re going to get to everything else.”
“The splash pad has been in the works for a long time,” she added. “We’re building a park from the ground up out at Veterans’ Park (by the YMCA).”
Other approved ordinances involved the Clerk of Council’s pay, additional funding for purchase and installation of street trees and street resurfacing, and approval of the final subdivision plat for Stockdale Farms Phase 1, a development project that Planning Director David Efland was particularly happy to see pass, as it had been in the works his entire time in office, more than nine years.
Mark Frame of Heidelberg Distributors also met with the Council to discuss a planned event Friday, August 29 to be held by Deschutes Brewery to benefit the Women’s City Club Foundation.
The Brewery would hold a beer garden on Sandusky Street from William Street to Spring Street, and would run from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., although preparations and dis-assembly would run from 4 p.m. to midnight.