Capital district commits to maintaining Dover pond

A retention pond at the corner of Pat Lynn Drive and Woodcrest Drive in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER – Water near the entrance of a planned campus, with two middle schools, covering 44.71 acres, has vexed folks for years.

It’s a nuisance and mosquito breeding hotspot, home to unwelcome groundhogs, snapping turtles and snakes.

That’s according to many Woodcrest neighborhood residents nearby, who want the Dover pond filled in with dirt.

The Capital School District believes it’s a potentially scenic area that can educate students on how an ecosystem works.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deems it a federally protected wetland mitigation area that can’t be altered.

Now, there’s a tentative compromise between the city of Dover and the school district to at least keep it maintained.

After ample discussion Monday night, the city’s planning commission approved Capital’s site development master plan application, with a crucial condition — the district must present a long-term maintenance plan for the area within 30 days.

The $111 million middle school project is scheduled to unfold in four phases, and could begin this fall. Final site plans must still be approved by various agencies and departments, along with application for building permits to start construction.

Planning commission member Robert Hartman made a motion to vote on the application and mandate just after 10:15 p.m., which was seconded by Nick Adams and then approved by with a 6-0 vote.

The go-ahead with a stipulation followed much public consternation from residents unhappy about the pond area’s very existence and state of repair.

While overseeing the area, Capital Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton said it’s been a struggle to remove invasive species and improve vegetation through plantings.

“Last summer didn’t get (the hoped-for) results,” he said.

Biologists from the Envirotech Environmental Consulting company have evaluated the area and report it to be healthy, with enough fish to consume mosquito larvae, according to Dr. Shelton.

Dr. Shelton said the area has been improved and “we will continue to try to be good neighbors.”

The district’s maintenance department has also been challenged to keep the area mowed, Dr. Shelton acknowledged.

The new construction area off Walker Road at 1 Pat Lynn Drive was previously home to the old Dover High School, which was demolished in 2015 in favor of a new campus off Del. 8.

Capital said it is in the process of hiring a contractor to build a six-foot-high opaque fence to stand between the district property and surrounding residential areas. There are also plans to take down trees in the area during the process, Dr. Shelton said.

Lots to discuss

Monday’s meeting began at 8 p.m. with a nearly 40-minute presentation of the overall project from Capital and the Becker Morgan Group, which has designed the site. Dr. Shelton said the district has held 37 public meetings to discuss the project.

Via earlier emails and through passionate public comments at a virtual meeting, residents pushed Dr. Shelton and Becker Morgan architect engineer Greg Moore, joined by Jonathan Falkowski, to answer concerns about the federally protected wetland.

Nine speakers spoke at the hearing, the city received a combined six emails/letters from residents along with a 69-signature petition.

The 2018 petition was orchestrated by city councilman Roy Sudler Jr. and forwarded to officials by councilman David Anderson on April 23.

Residents voiced a desire to fill in the pond, but an April 28 letter from the Corps of Engineers said it was not eligible for a permit due to it being considered only a nuisance.

Dr. Shelton said the district had done its “due diligence” in working with the Corps of Engineers but reached a “dead end” with every avenue taken.

Also, residents complained about sagging trees affecting properties, devalued homes, fear of stepping on snakes, groundhogs invading their gardens and a chain link fence that surrounds the pond area.

Dr. Shelton and Mr. Moore indicated that the presence of various wildlife is likely due to the surrounding ecosystem throughout the area, not specifically to the water area.

At least one local resident expressed interest in contacting U.S. Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware in an attempt to get a waiver to the requirements. Mr. Moore said if proper approvals were received then the water area would be filled.

“The resistance to filling it in is not (because of) money or not hearing it,” he said. “We are hearing it.”

The petition was orchestrated by city councilman Roy Sudler Jr. and forwarded to officials by councilman David Anderson on April 23.

Said one resident during the public comment session, “All we want” is to remove the water and enjoy their property while “(not having) to worry about infections.”