Silo Speedway gets the red light

 

Aerial view of the construction at Silo Raceway near Felton on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Aerial view of the construction at Silo Raceway near Felton on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

FELTON — Silo Speedway sits silent following the winds of controversy that have swirled around the facility for the past 10 months.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for neighboring Pizzadili Vineyard and Winery, Seafood City and residents of the Felton Heights development.

Kent County Superior Court Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. rendered an opinion Friday that led to the reversal of the county Board of Adjustment’s Feb. 18 decision that allowed Silo Speedway to be built in what turned out to be an erroneous building zone for such a facility.

Brooks Banta, president of Kent County Levy Court, chose not to comment on the Superior Court’s reversal.

However, Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Eric Buckson, who represents the 4th District, said he wasn’t surprised by the decision.

“I believe it’s an unfortunate situation for everybody,” he said. “I do believe that the court, when it took a look at our zoning ordinances, was correct in that I don’t think [the General Business District designation] was applied properly [to the racetrack] when it was originally processed.

“It’s just an unfortunate situation where the codes are not always clear and the county made a mistake in issuing it the way we did. Now we just have to move forward from this.”

Difference of opinions

Ron Faison, owner of the racetrack, has said the facility was hoping to provide an opportunity for young and older participants alike to learn how to race, allow families to have an affordable entertainment option and also provide jobs to the area.

Opponents to Silo Speedway cited concerns of noise, dust, crowds and traffic at the track, which had planned to host races on Friday nights from April until mid-November.

“I’m really glad [with the Superior Court’s decision]. It is what it is,” said David Mench, owner of Seafood City, located just to the east of the quarter-mile dirt track. “I wasn’t really [mad] about it, it’s just that I didn’t want the noise and I didn’t want the dust.

“They practiced [at the track] one day and the wind was blowing and I’ve got an outside bar and that bar probably had an inch of dust on it. So it would have been a problem. They don’t think so, but it’s not in their backyard.”

Mr. Faison did not return messages seeking comment about the judge’s decision over the weekend and on Tuesday.

Good intentions

Mr. Faison had planned to host races at the quarter-mile dirt racetrack behind the Delaware Auto Exchange auction business, which he also owns, just north of Felton at 10182 S. Dupont Highway.

Last year, he estimated the cost of the project would be from $150,000 to $200,000. The track had been scheduled to host weekly feature races in TUSA Mod Lites, USAC Speed-STR, Tobias Slingshots, Delmarva Chargers Cars and Delmarva Super Trucks divisions.

Mr. Faison said he realized he was investing in a risky business last November when he laid out his plans for the racing facility at a time when many racetracks throughout the country are struggling just to survive.

“It’s just one of those situations … it’s not one of the most profitable businesses to get into nowadays, but what we’re doing, there’s a need for it,” he said then. “And I think if you do it right and provide the need that people are looking for, we’ll be able to give families a fun and affordable place to go.”

It turned out that zoning issues, not economic ones, plagued the racetrack.

Silo Speedway did post what it called “a non-official statement” on its Facebook page Friday before apparently shutting the site down.

It stated, “Construction was on schedule to be able to race in March but we were asked by the County to cease construction until this appeal to the Superior Court was ruled. Again, we want everyone to know that we followed all orders from the County.

“Details about the decision will be coming in the near future with a full press release to be given out to the public. We are announcing this to our loyal race fans, supporters and racers themselves as a non-official statement.”

Code conflicts

In issuing his decision Judge Witham said a couple of terms in the Kent County Code did not match up — and that led to the reversal of the Kent County Board of Adjustment’s decision to allow the racetrack to be built.

Judge Witham wrote: “The [Superior] Court finds that the term ‘racetracks’ encompasses vehicle racetracks, that the term ‘commercial recreational facility’ does not encompass vehicle racetracks, and that results from the SIC [Standard Industrial Classification] manual must be compared to the stated purpose of the zoning district before a non-listed use is allowed.

“Based on these findings, the decision of the Kent County Board of Adjustment is REVERSED. IT IS SO ORDERED.”

The property that Silo Speedway sits on is zoned General Business, or a BG District. A certificate of use approved by Kent County on Oct. 28, 2015, labeled its proposed use as a “Commercial Recreation Facility.”

According to Judge Witham, “First, even if the term ‘commercial recreation facility’ was found to generally include vehicle racetracks, the listing of commercial recreation facilities in the BG District is limited by the examples that follow the listing.

“Second, relying on the SIC manual to determine that a vehicle racetrack does not comport with procedures contained in the Code. Third, precedent relied on by the Board is not persuasive.”

He added that only in the BG District is the term “commercial recreation facility” modified by the phrase “including miniature golf, tennis, racquetball and handball courts, skateboard parks, skating rinks, batting cages.”

There is no mention of racetracks following the word “including” in the phrase.

The opinion also said that “the inclusion of a dirt vehicle racetrack is subject to the provisions of section 205-166(B) [of the SIC manual] which states that the purpose of the BG District is ‘[t]o prohibit uses which may be detrimental to residential neighborhoods and communities for reasons such as odor, smoke, dust, fumes, fire, vibrations, noise or other hazardous conditions.’”

Superior Court also noted that a 2001 decision allowing the construction of Fairlane Acres, a go-kart track in Kitts Hummock, did not set a precedent for any decision regarding Silo Speedway.

Moving on

Felton’s Linda Pierce, whose elderly parents live near the racetrack, spoke at the Jan. 21 hearing against the speedway. She didn’t feel as if anybody listened to her concerns.

“I had gone to the Levy Court meeting and spoke,” she said. “But I felt, through the whole process, they didn’t care what the neighbors thought about the track, only the written laws. Well, they are rewritten on other issues at times. People’s lives and safety and livelihood are an issue here.”

It has been a long journey for Pete Pizzadili, whose Pizzadili Partners LLC was represented in the case by Wilmington lawyers Thomas Mammarella and William M. Keller.

Mr. Pizzadili has invested in the winery and vineyards on his property off Peach Basket Road for more than 20 years.

On Jan. 21, the Kent County Board of Adjustment voted 6-1 to deny Mr. Pizzadili’s appeal to negate a certificate of use to Silo Speedway, so he went on to file a suit in Superior Court against Kent County and LTR Properties, the listed owners of the racetrack.

LTR properties was represented by lawyer John W. Paradee while Noel E. Primos represented the Board of Adjustment for Kent County in the Superior Court case.

Mr. Pizzadili was pleased at the court’s reversal. He said he hosts about 35 wedding receptions a year at his vineyard and winery and a racetrack next door would have disrupted his operations.

“I am very satisfied. I don’t know what to say,” he said. “Justice was done, but it cost me a lot of money. I have nothing against racing, don’t get me wrong. But don’t put a racetrack in my dining room. That’s what was going on. I feel pretty good about the court’s decision.”

Mr. Mench said he is friends with Mr. Faison, but believes he should have gone about doing his business differently.

“I just think that he just went at it the wrong way and now realizes that he did,” he said. “When I have to do something I have to go send a letter to 1,000 people who live within 1,000 feet of me all the way around me for music, or whatever it is.

“He didn’t have to do anything. And now I think he’s disappointed.”

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

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