Speedway, Dover aim to annex Woodlands

One section around Dover International Speedway’s Woodlands that Dover is looking to annex is the area east of Del. 1 at Leipsic Road, top right.  (Special to the Delaware State News by Gary Emeigh)

One section around Dover International Speedway’s Woodlands that Dover is looking to annex is the area east of Del. 1 at Leipsic Road, top right. (Special to the Delaware State News by Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — A joint push by the city of Dover and Dover International Speedway could lead to an annexation of about 260 acres from the county.

Currently, 295 acres of The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway — which hosts events like Firefly Music Festival — sit solely in Kent County, outside of city limits.

Mike Tatoian, president of Dover International Speedway, said the city and speedway have been working together for a “few years” but efforts have ramped up recently.

“It’s just there’s no consistency, so when you’re on our property in county land, and then you’re in city-owned land and then you’re back in county land,” he said.

The issue has come to light since the speedway began hosting Firefly in 2012. Organizers have had to fill out two sets of permits, one for the county and one for the city.

Once the land transfer — which is arranged in almost a checkerboard pattern — is transferred, events will require less planning.

“As we start to develop lots of activity and events we’re having back there, and possibly Punkin Chunkin, it just came to light within the last couple years that this is something we should be doing,” Mr. Tatoian said.

Contrary to some speculation, the October 2014 cancellation of Punkin Chunkin — set to be held at the Woodlands for the first time — was not due solely to the organizers having to fill out multiple approval forms, he said.

There is no exact timetable for when the annexation will be complete, although it will not be done by the time Firefly begins on June 18.

City and speedway officials met last week and concluded they do not want to rush the process, said Ann Marie Townshend, director of Dover Planning and Inspections.

Mr. Tatoian hopes to have it done by the end of the year and speculated it would be finished sometime in the summer or fall. According to him, even if the deal takes longer than expected, it won’t delay any planned events.

City Council President David Bonar, whose district includes the Woodlands, said there are few negatives to the transfer.

Once the annexation is ready to take place, city council will have to vote on it.

“The pluses far outweigh the minuses,” he said. “The coordination of all the permitting and all the fees and the enforcement of all the planning and zoning laws that are going to impact that area of the city would be better served by having that under one roof.”

The transfer will represent some additional duties for city workers, he said, but the payoff of making it simpler for the planners means the annexation is a good deal.

Dover International Speedway would have to pay an additional property tax to the city once the move is done, according to Mr. Tatotian. He said the land’s value would need to be assessed by Dover before the company would know what taxes it would be assessed.

“The costs to the speedway associated with annexation would be taxes and possibly licensing fees,” Ms. Townshend said. “They are currently paying licensing fees to the city for the portion of the venue that is in the city boundary, so this is not expected to be a large cost.”

The city and the speedway are onboard, but of course, there’s a third party that must consent. Fortunately for those involved, however, the county is very aware of the idea and likely will acquiesce to a transfer.

“In a sense, it probably works better in the long run for the events that happen here,” County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange said.

He said the county will continue to supply emergency medical service for events at the Woodlands.

The current partnership works well, but moving the land to city control would be more efficient, he said.

Currently, both the city and state fire marshals have to be available for events, with each covering the lands in their jurisdiction.

Matthew Brown, a Dover deputy fire marshal, said if the land is moved into the city limits, it would be the sole responsibility of the city.

While most of the Woodlands is set to be moved to Dover, a 35-acre portion will remain the sole domain of the county. That land is not contiguous to existing city property and thus “those acres do not qualify” for the transfer, Mr. Tatoian said.

Praising the partnership between the speedway and the municipality, Mr. Tatoian said he was not sure which side first broached the possibility of annexation.

Although there are more steps to be undertaken, the move seems likely to happen, according to various officials.

“I’m hopeful that it will be done in this calendar year but we’re not fighting the clock to get something done,” Mr. Tatoian said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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