Battle lines drawn over future of Pride of Dover Elks Lodge

Roy Sudler

DOVER — Officials with the Dover Elks Lodge No. 1125, at 217 N. Kirkwood Street, are taking steps to try to reopen the club.

However, Dover City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., who represents the 4th District where the club is located, said his constituents have expressed to him time and time again that they do not want the crime-plagued lodge to reopen.

The establishment, officially referred to as the Pride of Dover Elks Lodge, was shut down in early January 2017 by city and state officials due to “nonconforming use.”

“According to the majority of Kirkwood community members, they are not only still opposed to the idea of the lodge reopening, but are furious with the Elks Lodge No. 1125 for aggressively (pursuing) reopening after they have been psychologically held hostage every Thursday and Sunday night from 8 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. that they are open,” Councilman Sudler said.

“The statistical analysis indicates that Elks Lodge No. 1125 significantly contributed to the large quantity of criminal activity and deviant behavior that jeopardized the welfare and public safety of the Kirkwood community and surrounding areas in central Dover.”

The city’s Development Advisory Committee (DAC) will be reviewing an application for conditional use by the Pride of Dover Elks Lodge at its 10 a.m. meeting in the City Hall conference room on Wednesday.

Leaders of the Elks Lodge on Kirkwood Street are hoping to reopen the club so that it can be “utilized as an annual membership club serving members and their guests.”

The application, after being reviewed by the DAC, will then be considered by the city’s Planning Commission at its meeting on Dec. 18.
Elks hope to reopen club

Willie M. Alexander Jr., Exalted Ruler of the now-shuttered Elks Lodge, attended the Dover City Council meeting on Feb. 13, 2017, along with Harold Mack, the Elks Lodge’s secretary, and Carlton Stanley, president of the Tri-State Association for The Improved Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks of the World Inc., which covers Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

During the public forum preceding the city council meeting, Mr. Stanley said, “We have learned that part of the Delaware Lodge had evidently violated some code or law.”

He said he wanted to know what the members at the national level, which is the grand level, could do to work with the city and the Elks Lodge “to alter the violations so that the lodge could continue to operate in the city of Dover and further aid its community.”

Mr. Mack then informed city council members that the Pride of Dover had been in existence since 1944 and had undergone many changes.

“The Lodge remained a reminder to everyone that its African American heritage has had a profound effect on those who partake in it, including the city of Dover community,” Mr. Mack said. “There was a zoning violation and we are trying to work with the police chief, the administration and others so that all could come together working for the community as a whole.”

Mr. Mack explained that the Elks Lodge wanted to do whatever they needed to do to bring a state of resolution to the issue and move forward.
“I hope you find room in your hearts for resolution,” he said.

Councilman Sudler said his constituents remain adamantly opposed to the Elks Lodge reopening.

“I have received an enormous amount of positive feedback in regards to the Elks Lodge No. 1125 being shut down,” the councilman said. “The feedback is not only received from Kirkwood Street residents, but also citizens from all four districts who have family members in that area or travel on that street during certain hours that the lodge is open.

“As their 4th District representative and voice, there’s no ambiguity in this matter and my constituent’s voice can’t be any clearer.”

Looking at the numbers

Mr. Sudler requested that the Dover Police Department send him some statistics regarding crime on North Kirkwood Street from the months of January through June of 2016 and the same time frame from this year, during which time the Elks Lodge was closed.

He said the figures he received from Dover Police Chief Marvin Mailey indicated that criminal complaints on the street had declined by 81 percent since the closing of the club.

The police report showed that 25 out of 48 of the complaints from January through June 2016 were from 217 North Kirkwood Street, the Elks Lodge’s address, which accounted for 52 percent of the total complaints on the street for that period.

Conversely, there was only one complaint from that address in the same period for 2017. It was for an alarm and it accounts for 11 percent of the total complaints on the street for that period.

Councilman Sudler said the numbers simply do not lie.

“The closing of the Elks Lodge on North Kirkwood Street has struck a mighty blow in criminal activity for the downtown area,” he said. “The unacceptable behavior and gang activity has damaged the image of Dover and continues to be a contributing factor to the decrease of economic development and prosperity for downtown Dover.

“I am concerned that if the Elks Lodge was to reopen, then it would be an expulsion of public safety and constituents trust in the mayor and city council.”

Councilman Sudler added, “As citizens of Dover, local and state officials, we need to continue to push back against the war on crime by supporting our Dover Police Department and community members so that we can decrease the amount of criminal enterprises that help to deteriorate our great city of Dover.”

Taking a look back

Ann Marie Townshend, the former Dover city planner, said that as part of the Elks Lodge’s “nonconforming use” the city had been notified of a Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement undercover operation last year where agents “entered the lodge after paying a cover charge, without being sponsored by a member.

“They proceeded also to purchase alcohol,” Ms. Townshend wrote. “This is contrary to assurances provided by you and others on behalf of the Lodge, and it documents that the property houses a nonconforming use that is required to comply with the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance.

“Given that this use of the property is now documented as nonconforming, and that the letter sent on Aug. 24, 2016, required the property to be brought into compliance with the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance by Dec. 31, 2016, the Lodge must cease operations immediately.”

Prior to the undercover operation, Ms. Townshend had sent a letter to Mr. Alexander of the Elks Club on Aug. 24, 2016, that identified a nonconforming use, according to general residence zoning ordinance.

‘Dishonesty cannot be ignored’

Councilman Sudler said that keeping the Elks Lodge on North Kirkwood Street closed is not about him – it’s about the people in that community.

“It’s not about Roy Sudler Jr. and what he wants, it’s about whom I represent and what the majority of my constituents want me to do that is reasonable, fair and in the best interest of the public’s welfare,” he said. “I, Roy Sudler Jr., have no personal interest or gain in this matter.”

The councilman added that the Dover Elks Lodge has already “misused” their previous conditional use permit and “functioned as a public club rather than a private membership club, which they said they were doing which was proven to not be the case. The Elks Lodge’s dishonesty cannot be ignored.”

“On behalf of my constituents on Kirkwood Street I ask that the Planning Committee for the City of Dover deny the Elks Lodge No. 1125’s application for a conditional use permit on December 18,” Councilman Sudler said.

“Shame on the Dover Elks Lodge No. 1125 for fooling the city of Dover once, but shame on the city of Dover if we allow the Elks Lodge No. 1125 to fool us twice.”

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

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