Businesses race to curb Felton dirt track

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With the application for Silo Speedway, this aerial view represents in black where the quarter-mile racing oval is planned behind Delaware Auto Exchange on U.S. 13 north of Felton. Above the red bordering, the Pizzadili Vineyard and Winery is shown. The winery’s building and pavilion are the red rooftops. (Submitted photo/Kent County Department of Planning Services)

FELTON — Fearing noise, dust and danger, neighboring business owners are appealing to Kent County to put the brakes on a speedway project in Felton.

Silo Speedway, already under construction, is bordered by Pizzadili Vineyard and Winery on its west side and Seafood City restaurant to its east.

“I am for business,” said Pete Pizzadili, owner of the winery. “But for the sake of business, he’s destroying two other businesses. I don’t think the county should allow this.”

Silo owner Ron Faison’s plans call for racing Friday nights from March to October. The cars will have one- to four-cylinder engines, he said, and race on the quarter-mile dirt oval now under construction behind his Delaware Auto Exchange auction business on U.S. 13.

In a November article in the Delaware State News, Mr. Faison said he expected crowds of up to 600 people for Friday night racing.

“It’s not going to help the community,” said Seafood City owner David Mench. “You might not be able to see it at your house, but it’s in our backyard. I play music Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but you’ll not be able to hear it with these cars going around.”

Mr. Faison obtained approval for the speedway project from Kent County on Oct. 29.

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Silo Speedway owner Ron Faison of Felton and son C.J., 22, plan to host races on Friday nights. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

He hopes to start holding races in the spring.

The neighbors have asked the Kent County Board of Adjustment to consider stopping the project. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21.

The county “certificate of use” was issued without a public hearing.

The property is a permitted use and doesn’t require a public hearing, said Sarah Keifer, director of Kent County’s Department of Planning Services.

“Permitted uses, by right, don’t require the scrutiny that a conditional use would,” Ms. Keifer said Monday. A conditional use requires notification of a public hearing.

“The only permitted uses that have to go through the county are subdivisions,” she said.

Ms. Keifer said there was a “lot of discussion internally” about the track’s impact.

Mr. Pizzadili has more than 20 years invested in the winery and vineyards on his property off Peach Basket Road, just north of the town of Felton. He and his late brother, Tony, first planted grapes there in 1993.

He said the speedway, which backs up to the vineyard, could harm his wedding business. Already, 30 weddings are planned for weekends next year, he said.

“The cars are loud and have a lot of dust,” Mr. Pizzadili said. “This is where I have my weddings. This is unfair. I don’t know why they’re allowing him to do that.”

Mr. Faison said Mr. Pizzadili was the first person he contacted when he obtained his permits.

“I went over to him and explained what was going on,” Mr. Faison said. “We talked about how I would recommend everyone to go to his winery afterwards and he was on board with it. I was just trying to be a good neighbor.”

But Mr. Mench, who has owned and operated Seaford City on U.S. 13 for 20 years, said Mr. Faison never asked him.

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Silo Speedway owner Ron Faison of Felton and his son, CJ, push one of the cars that would be used at a Felton dirt race track. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

“I didn’t know anything about it until it was in the paper,” Mr. Mench said.

The Delaware State News reported on the speedway project on Nov. 14.

Last week, Mr. Pizzadili showed the Delaware State News how close the track was to his property line.

Through a line of small trees, brush and vines, you could see the dirt of the newly cut oval.

Mr. Pizzadili and Mr. Mench fear the cars could create some dangers if one blew or lost a tire, or veered off the speedway.

Mr. Mench said he is upset the speedway could disrupt his business.

He said he did not understand why Mr. Faison did not have to notify neighbors.

When Mr. Mench wanted to host outdoor music at his restaurant, he said he was required to send certified letters to neighbors within 1,000 feet of the property.

Ms. Keifer said the county planning office recommended Mr. Faison speak to other property owners, but he wasn’t required to do so, since it was a “permitted use.”

Mr. Mench said his restaurant cuts off the outdoor music at 10 p.m. out of respect for neighbors.

He said he has a pavilion behind his restaurant where he barbecues. Food preparation and dining also might suffer, he said.

“You don’t want to be sitting outside at the pavilion listening to the music and eating crabs with dust flying on your food,” Mr. Mench said.

He also has closed off an area behind his restaurant because people with interest in the speedway had been going across his property.

“I had to shut it off,” Mr. Mench said.

He said access from the auto auction already was closed off.

Friday night races

Mr. Faison said he originally planned to have the races on Saturdays instead of Fridays, but changed the dates to accommodate Mr. Pizzadili’s weddings.

“We were thinking about racing on that day, but since he has weddings during that time we changed the races to Friday,” Mr. Faison said.

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Grapes were first planted in 1993 at the Pizzadili Vineyard and Winery off Peach Basket Road in Felton. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

“I told him to just let me know ahead of time if one of the weddings carries over into Saturday and I’ll cancel the race on Friday or make changes.

“We both talked about giving each other a heads up as to what we have planned so we can both help each other out,” Mr. Faison added.

“He came to me and said, ‘Do you have any objection if I put a race track here,’ ” Mr. Pizzadili said. “I told him, ‘Who am I to tell you that you cannot do what you want? It’s your land. I don’t like it, but it’s your land.’ ”

Mr. Faison, in his application to the county, said he would have a “self-forced curfew cutoff time of 11:30 p.m.” during the Friday night races.

“We also will extend to our neighbor at the winery next door any night off he may need for weddings receptions, if requested by his business to ours with a 30-day notice.”

Mr. Pizzadili said he worries the speedway would be used on more than just Friday evenings.

“Already, this guy has people asking if he can race Saturday,” said Mr. Pizzadili. “He said he would only race on Fridays, but who’s going to stop him from doing something on Saturday or during the week?”

Other concerns

Mr. Pizzadili also worries the track’s surface and upkeep may create some environmental issues. “It could contaminate the water,” he said.

The U.S. 13 entrance to the auto auction and speedway also is a concern Mr. Pizzadili and Mr. Mench share.

“It’s a 50 mph-road right there and they’re already rolling off 30 mph when they take that turn,” Mr. Mench said.

“Just say you have race cars lined up in trailers and can’t get in there. It’s already bad when they have the auction.”

Since the property does not contain a 50,000-square-foot building with a roof, it does not go through the Office of State Planning’s Preliminary Land Use Service, where the office coordinates with other state agencies to help the developer through the process.

A traffic plan from the Department of Transportation also was not necessitated, and it appears no Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control environmental study was mandated.

Zoning questions

The property where the speedway will be built is zoned General Business.

The certificate of use approved by the county labels its proposed use as a “Commercial Recreation Facility.”

Mr. Pizzadili, whose vineyard is in an Agriculture Residential district, and Mr. Mench take issue with the allowed use.

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Pete Pizzadili says there are 30 weddings booked for 2016 at the Pizzadili Vineyard and Winery in Felton. The grounds include a gazebo, pavilion, pond and fountain. Just beyond the pavilion and trees, you can see the silo which gave Silo Speedway its name. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

The county’s zoning code, they noted, lists miniature golf, tennis, racquetball, handball courts, skateboard parks, skating rinks and batting cages as “Commercial Recreation Center” examples. It does not list race tracks.

“When we reviewed what he wanted to do, we looked at where it fit in the zoning ordinance because it isn’t specifically listed in the ordinance,” Ms. Keifer said. “Another section of the ordinance directs us to the manual of the Standard Industrial Classification Code.”

She said Fairlane Acres Speedway, an 1/8-mile kart track south of Dover Air Force Base off Kitts Hummock Road, which is similar to the Silo Speedway, is what they based the permit on for approval.

“It was similar use and used as certified recreational center and that’s where we made the connection,” Ms. Keifer said. “That’s the logic that we used. That list in the ordinance isn’t exclusive, it’s inclusive.”

Mr. Faison said the speedway would be used for training and competition for youth ages 8 and older, and adults. “The vehicles used in these divisions will be no larger than four-cylinder engines, all with noise damping devices (mufflers),” he wrote in his application,

In the November Delaware State News’ article, Mr. Faison said the project will cost between $150,000 to $200,000 to construct. It includes aluminum grandstands and LED lighting, he said in November.

In Mr. Faison’s proposed certificate-of-use application dated Oct. 26, 2015, no new structures or changes to structures were listed.

Jan. 21 appeal

Mr. Pizzadili, Mr. Mench and others spoke out against the speedway during a public comment session before Levy Court on Nov. 24.

Levy Court Commissioner Glen Howell, who serves the Felton area, said the only recourse they had was to appeal the decision to the Board of Adjustment.

The Kent County Board of Adjustment will consider the appeal Jan. 21.

“The dust and the loud noise is what I have a problem with,” Mr. Pizzadili said. “I believe he went against regulation. I hope they stop him from doing this, as they should.”

Mr. Faison said Mr. Pizzadili’s feelings toward the speedway are frustrating.

“He was all on board with it and then all of a sudden he was against it,” Mr. Faison said. “I don’t know what happened, or what made him change his mind.

“It’s kind of frustrating. This track is going to bring business in for the community and it’s going to be a great family place.”

Ms. Keifer said if either party is displeased with the outcome with the Board of Adjustment decision, they have a right to appeal in Superior Court.

“If it was a planning commission issue, it would go to Kent County Levy Court,” she said. “But the board of adjustment is a completely separate entity. They are appointed by the Levy Court, but Levy Court doesn’t have authority to reverse their decisions.”

Ms. Keifer said 2008 was the last time the county had an zoning appeal.

“There are a lot of emotions behind this,” she said. “It’s in the board’s hands now and we just have to see what happens.”

Delaware State News managing editor Andrew West contributed to this story.

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