City officials have been discussing the role and value of Dover's Historic District Commission and the Historic District itself since some in the community have claimed that the commission has created roadblocks to downtown redevelopment and economic growth in the city.
Others in the community have supported the Historic District Commission as an important caretaker of the city's rich history in terms of its role in the Department of Planning & Inspection's approval process for building in Dover's Historic District and have said the commission's role should be expanded, Dover Director of Planning & Community Development Ann Marie Townshend said.
The discussions of the role of the Historic District and its commission have taken place largely in informal venues amongst property owners, business owners, elected officials and other stakeholders in the community in the last two years, Townshend said. Talk has picked up in the last couple of months, she added.
But Townshend wanted to formally start the process of public discussion about the Historic District's future and, therefore, brought it before Dover City Council's Legislative, Finance & Administration Committee at its last meeting on Jan. 14. During public comment Friends of Old Dover President Larry Josefowski defended the Historic District Commission as actually having enhanced economic development.
"I think it is a statement of convenience to place the perceived economic faults of downtown Dover towards the Historic District Commission or any specific body, and by extension, the guidelines themselves," Josefowski said, presenting a letter to Councilman Sean Lynn, the legislative committee chairman. "Historic structures that have been here and demolished or significantly altered promote the loss of character that enriches the lives of people today. Part of the story of Dover – a story that stretches back 330 years- is missing.
"And a strong historic character is not an impediment to economic development," he added. "It can be just the opposite — a strong draw for tourism and a perfect partner for businesses, museums, colleges, schools and government."
He said that keeping an aesthetically cohesive, historic district with appropriate oversight made economic sense.
Josefowski found an ally in Terry Graham, executive director of New Castle-based Preservation Delaware, which supports nine historic commissions throughout the First State. She told the legislative committee that historic districts were important tools to enhancing quality of life and attracting families and businesses to any locale.
Dover City Council's Legislative, Finance & Administration Committee unanimously approved Townshend's recommendation for the city's Department of Planning to hold at least one public workshop or more to discuss the role and scope of the Historic District Commission by the end of February. The planning office would report back to legislative committee in March "with clear recommendations on whether and how the role and scope of the historic district and/or the Historic District Commission should be modified."