Judge Rules on Delaware Mansion
By Ashley Nanco | Online Only | Aug. 4, 2009
This month, after a three-year lawsuit, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled in favor of a developer, upholding its zoning variance request concerning the historic Gibraltar Mansion and Gardens in Wilmington, Del. This decision will allow the developer, who wants to restore the mansion, to use the residentially zoned area as commercial office space. The July 16 ruling was good news for some fans of the property, built in 1844
"We're extremely elated [about the judge's ruling]. It's been many years since the process began," says Rod Maroney, President of the Board of Trustees for Preservation Delaware. "This is a big victory for preservation; particularly in Delaware."
Named for its rocky landscape, the seven-acre Colonial Revival and Italianate estate, which includes a 17,000-square-foot mansion and extensive gardens, was built by businessman and landowner John Rodney Brinklé.
Gibraltar's gardens were created between 1916 and 1923 and were designed by Marian Cruger Coffin, one of the first female landscape architects in the country.
Preservation Delaware has owned the property since 1997, launching a campaign the following year to restore the gardens to their original beauty. Although the gardens have been restored, the mansion is in "pretty poor condition," says Adrian Fine, former director of the National Trust's Northeast Field Office.
"Right now everyone in the preservation community is anxious to see something happen to Gibraltar and move it off the dime from being this vacant, deteriorating building. To get it stabilized and rehabilitated is the main goal here," Fine says.
According to court documents, restoration of the property will cost between $9 and $10 million.
The developer, CCS Investors, based in Yorklyn, Del., wants to add a new wing and convert part of the mansion into office space. According to Preservation Delaware and CCS, rent money and profits from the offices and development will be used to finance the maintenance and rehabilitation.
In August 2006, CCS Investors applied for a use variance, which the zoning board approved. However, five neighbors appealed the decision, citing traffic concerns around the project, which they said was "too intensive." Their appeal was heard and reversed by the superior court. CCS and Preservation Delaware then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.
"[Construction of a commercial building] enables the project to be financially feasible and for rehabilitation to occur," Fine says. "It was a big challenge to find someone to step up and make the numbers work, so by doing the new construction is kind of the trade off. Allowing that to occur will allow the rehabilitation to occur."
The Gibraltar Mansion and Gardens were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
"Gibraltar represents a long-term preservation commitment," Fine says. "A lot of people have worked on this, and when you have a struggle that takes this long, it tends to be a huge celebration when it is rehabilitated and used."
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