Annexation eases way for Firefly permits, policing

DOVER — It’s not something that the thousands of people attending the Firefly Music Festival at The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway this weekend probably will even notice.

The areas in blue were in Dover city limits. A joint effort between the city and Dover International Speedway had Dover annexing the areas in yellow into the city limits, also. (Delaware State News file)

The areas in blue were in Dover city limits. A joint effort between the city and Dover International Speedway had Dover annexing the areas in yellow into the city limits, also. (Delaware State News file)

However, those workers involved behind the scenes at the music festival are enjoying a more streamlined approach for its fifth edition after 260 acres of land at The Woodlands was annexed to the city of Dover from Kent County on May 9.

The annexation has helped clear up many logistical issues that previously plagued the event.

For example, the main stage used to be located on Kent County land and was overseen by the Delaware State Police, while many other patches of The Woodlands — the main grounds for the music festival — fell within city of Dover jurisdiction and were protected by the Dover Police Department.

The same difficulties rang true for all of the other first responders, including firemen and EMTs who work the festival. Confusion reigned when it came to who was responsible for what piece of the festival property.

Plus, Firefly organizers used to have to fill out two sets of permits, one for Kent County and one for the city.

That all changed in early May when Dover City Council voted unanimously to approve zoning changes for the annexation of The Woodlands.

A total of 260 acres of land on the east side of Del. 1 behind the race track was transferred from Kent County to Dover and the adjustments to the city’s comprehensive plan changed the zoning of the property from an agriculture use to a commercial use.

Jerry Dunning

Jerry Dunning

“The zoning is primarily a benefit to the local agencies that help support our event by putting all areas of the speedway under one jurisdiction,” said Jerry Dunning, senior vice president and general manager of Dover International Speedway. “It cuts down on confusion for the music festival, primarily, and allows for a more streamlined permitting process and agency oversight.”

The annexation should also help clear up some conflicts and confusion in terms of code. One example is the city and county have differing regulations when it comes to the distance that RVs and motor homes can be placed next to each other and how near they can be to electric sources.

Now, all of those rules have become uniform for the entire property, which is a huge plus according to Dover City Councilman Fred Neil.

Fred Neil

Fred Neil

“Now if there are problems that do arise with the music festival then the city can take action,” said Councilman Neil, who lives near The Woodlands. “You still have the state police involved with the [Delaware Department of Transportation] and city police when it comes to traffic issues and there’s still a lot of coordination involved with several different agencies.

“However, enforcement of issues — such as noise problems from late-night parties — is easier now that the property has been annexed by the city. With having the land in the city it puts one group in charge of the regulations. I think it’s a good thing.”

Gregory Moore, of the Becker Morgan Group, represented Dover International Speedway at the May 9 Dover City Council meeting in which the annexation was approved.

Mr. Moore said the speedway does not have any development planned for the annexed areas and that they will continue to be used for parking and overnighting for campers.

He also confirmed that the parcels include the area where the State Police perform training and that he expected it would be business as usual for all of those activities as it has been for the last 15 to 20 years at the speedway.

The city had been working with Dover International Speedway for around a year-and-a-half to annex all of the properties used for festivals, camping for NASCAR races and other activities into the city of Dover.

The annexation also means more revenue for the city, though how much is still unclear.

Since the land is now under city control it is subject to normal property and utility taxes. How much the city stands to earn is unclear, officials say.

While most of the Woodlands’ property was annexed to Dover, there is a 35-acre portion that remained the sole domain of the county. That land is not contiguous to existing city property and did not qualify for the transfer.

“I think [Kent County] was very happy with it,” Councilman Neil said of the annexation. “All [the city] did was take the lead further down the line with the encouragement of Dover Motorsports to do so.

“It is still essential that we have cooperation with various state agencies because it’s such a huge event that adds 90,000 residents to our city of 30,000 for the weekend.”

Mr. Dunning said that everyone involved with Firefly is better off with the annexation.

“All of the agencies will benefit from this change, including emergency services, police, inspections, planning department, fire marshal and more,” he said. It helps simplify the overall coordination of our large-scale events.

“The speedway now falls into one zoning class [recreational/commercial], which allows for a better understanding of the rules in which we have to work.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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