Dover City Council treaded lightly while discussing the possibility of making The Green in the city's historic district a national monument Monday night as part of the long quest by U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) to create a national park district in the state of Delaware.
A few members of council had concerns about what exactly the effect an historic easement in perpetuity from the U.S. National Park Service would have on the city's ability to independently hold things like Dover Days, summer festivals and fall festivals on The Green. That included Councilman Adam Perza and Councilwoman Beverly Williams, who wanted to see "the fine print" before making a firm commitment. As such, they moved at Monday night's meeting in City Hall that council reserve the right to back out of a deal if the terms were found to be less than favorable.
Perza did so with the realization that t the economic benefits of such a national designation could have a positive effect on the state capital. Namely, The Dover Green could reap tourist dollars thanks to the marketing muscle of the National Park Service. The U.S. Department of the Interior agency cares for America's nearly 398 national parks and monuments.
Council voted 7-0, with two absent, to hold a public hearing on consideration of The Green as a national monument at its Jan. 28 meeting. Councilman David Bonar was absent, and Councilman Sean Lynn excused himself from Council Chambers for this particular vote.
The motion included sending notice to all property owners within 200 feet of The Green, authorizing staff to immediately begin a title search, historic preservation easement with the state of Delaware to meet the criteria of the National Park Service and authorize staff to being work on an environmental assessment of the land.
"If Dover chooses not to go forward — while it doesn't prevent this from being considered again — the hill that we would have to climb to reconsider this would be significant," , City Manager Scott Koenig said. "We'd likely be climbing that by ourselves because the designations in other parts of the state would likely have happened."
The national monument designation would pertain exclusively to The Green and not to adjacent property, city and federal officials said. Nonetheless, Councilman David Anderson reported to council that property owners of land adjacent to The Green expressed serious concerns, particularly with "the complete lack of notice" they were given for this discussion during the Parks & Recreation Committee meeting held at noon Monday.
Among those property owners was Anne Reigle, of Wyoming, whose family has been in Dover since before the American Revolution. Reigle told council at its meeting later on Monday night that she had concerns about the city pressing ahead into a deal that could restrict property owners in their ability to make repairs or renovations in the future, among other things.
Page 2 of 2 - "This is a philosophical discussion about turning over control to the federal government what the city is already doing well," Reigle said. "If you want this to work, you have to include us."
Councilman James Hutchison asked who would control The Green if the historic easement went into effect. Koenig said his understanding was that the city would maintain maintenance of the park with no influence of what events to hold.
Molly Ross, special assistant to director of the National Park Service, said that would indeed be the case because Dover was already maintaining The Green per the standards of the U.S. secretary of the interior.
The two ways to make national monuments and parks are congressional action or presidential action through the Antiquities Act, Ross said. For instance, President Theodore Roosevelt designated the Grand Canyon in Arizona as a national monument in 1908, she said.
The National Park Service believes the addition of Delaware, the only state without a national monument or park, would be worthwhile in telling the story of Dover's important role in American history, Ross said. Carper had proposed sites in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties.
In addition, she said every $1 spent on national parks generated $4 in local economies and, therefore, would add value to neighboring properties by drawing tourists and more businesses.
"Ownership stays with the city or state, depending on the title search," Ross said, referring to the question of who actually owned The Green. "Things shouldn't change."
Timothy Slavin, director of the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, said the historic easement would maintain what Dover was already doing to preserve The Green and give it marketing muscle.
"This has my full support," Slavin said.
Nonetheless, Perza said he wanted to see something in writing from federal officials regarding Dover's ability to maintain The Green as it had for 300 years.
"It sounds good, but when do we see the fine print?" he said.
Anderson added that the city needed to keep its options open. But it had to "measure twice and cut once" given the easement's perpetuity.
Ross said she understood the pressure the city faced; the documents would be in the city's hands by the Jan. 28 public hearing.
Mayor Carleton Carey Sr. thanked the National Park Service and Carper's office for their work to include The Green in the plan to bring Delaware into the fold of national parks and monuments.