Editorial: History, saved through compromise
By Richard Gaw
If there is any echo of a narrative to be heard, it’s in the sound of what happens when progress collides with preservation. It’s going on now and has been going on for more than a year, in public appeals from the New Garden Township’s Historic Commission to the township’s Board of Supervisors to do all it can to preserve the Middleton home.
It’s also being heard in what has become one of the best potential solutions for historic preservation heard in the township in several years, offered up, ironically, by Wilkinson Homes, who is currently developing Middleton Crossing within earshot of the Middleton property. The builder, who now owns the home, agreed to an 18-month window of time, beginning when it officially puts the sale of the historic home on the market, to actively sell the home and, if it is not sold during that period, that it will pursue a demolition permit from the township in order to demo the home.
It is a gift of time that could potentially save a piece of the township’s history, one that comes from the most unlikely of sources, a builder whose name and reputation has long been synonymous – fairly or unfairly -- with progress at any cost, and a name that’s been a thorn in the Historic Commission’s side for a very long time.
But there it is, a tabula rasa blank slate offering, in the form of a year-and-a-half calendar of time, substantially long enough for the parties of progress and preservation to put their differences aside and do the heavy lifting of compromise. We have some ideas:
· The Historic Commission and Wilkinson Homes should develop a two-tiered selling strategy that combines the knowledge of the real estate market with the knowledge of the township’s history. From the time the home is officially listed, representatives from these two entities should both be present to provide prospective homebuyers with their respective expertise.
· The Historic Commission should, in cooperation with Wilkinson Homes, develop an across-the-board marketing plan for the Middleton house that includes social media, the use of the township’s website and the scheduling of a public walk-through, all of which will not only create a “buzz” around the home’s sale, but provide a walkable history lesson.
· As stated in the 18-month agreement between the builder and the township, the builder will not undergo any cosmetic or major renovations of the home. Therefore, in order to best showcase the home, the Historic Commission should enlist the services of local scouts and volunteer service agencies to undertake the exterior maintenance of the home’s property, while taking on the responsibility of doing some interior sprucing.
· The Historic Commission must become a regular presence at the township’s Board of Supervisors’ meetings, and give regular, in-person updates about the progress of the potential sale and preservation of the Middleton home, before the board and the general public.
When the 18-month clock begins to tick on this possible solution to save the historic Middleton home, it will tick fast, and there will be no more excuses, no more finger pointing and no more shredding of tears over the loss of local history. It will be the time, rather, to usher in compromise, save a precious heirloom from the developer’s wrecking ball, and see that the old home on Newark Road will someday have a family running through it again.